Nostalgia is a curious thing. Once considered a form of sickness, nostalgia has been found to have certain benefits for our wellbeing. It helps us feel connected to others, cope with difficult times, build healthy habits, and even be more optimistic about the future.
What’s more, it sells. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that people are more likely to spend more money when they’re feeling nostalgic. When it comes to clunky old tech, this feeling is helping gadgets of decades past make a 2020s comeback.
For brands, designing new tech with throwback aesthetics can help add a sense of uniqueness and permanence for things that seem more and more disposable with every new product launch.
Plus, it can help make devices seem less intimidating and more familiar. For individuals who simply want to use things that people once threw out or gave away, it’s a way to reconnect with a time long gone — adding a dash of old-school style and sentimentality to their day.
Here are six examples of cool new old tech.
Flip phones never truly disappeared, but they did fall from a great height when the iPhone ushered in the era of smartphones in the late 2000s. For instance, Motorola’s iconic 2004 RAZR V3 — you know the one! — sold over 130 million units before today’s ubiquitous flat, rectangular, glossy black smartphone came to be the norm.
Motorola restarted their flip phone game in 2020, and was soon followed by Samsung, the world’s largest phone manufacturer, with the Galaxy Flip series.
While the form of these new flip phones are a clear tribute to their predecessors, the technology they’re made with is leaps and bounds ahead. These phones offer a big-screen experience in a foldable body.
Of course, they’re still pretty expensive, and only time will tell whether the flip phone is truly here to stay. But if there’s one thing that hasn’t changed and probably never will, it’s that snapping a flip phone shut after a call is nothing short of satisfying.
Vinyl records have been regaining ground in recent years, and in 2020, vinyl outsold CDs for the first time since 1986 — showing no signs of slowing down. Interestingly, this form of analog technology is particularly popular among millennials and Generation Z, who grew up with CDs and streaming, respectively, and for whom vinyl holds a certain novelty value.
After all, vinyl records are tangible and can be held, displayed, and gifted. In a time when in-person events and musical gatherings have had to be restricted, vinyl records have also become a way to connect with your favorite artists.
In fact, earlier this year, Taylor Swift’s “Evermore” broke the record for most vinyl copies sold in one week. Though streaming will likely continue to be the main channel for music distribution and revenue, there’s no denying that vinyl will hold a special place in people’s hearts for decades to come.
Like vinyl, polaroid cameras represent a way to enjoy tangible imperfection in a time of digital glossiness. In an era of ever-rising megapixel smartphone cameras, low-resolution polaroids are making a pretty impressive comeback.
Polaroid, the company that is the namesake of all instant photography we know today, came out with the first Polaroid instant camera in the 1940s. This handy gadget allowed people to shoot, shake, and share images with friends, and made the company rich in the ‘80s and ‘90s. But the rise of digital cameras led to them filing for bankruptcy twice in the 2000s, and to stop making instant film altogether by 2008.
Today, most instant film photography is made possible by Fujifilm, whose Instax cameras went from 100,000 units sold in 2004, to 3.5 million units sold in 2019 (thanks, once again, in part to Taylor Swift).
This one’s a little odd, but believe it or not, there are people who still use fax machines — and their numbers are growing, particularly in the world of business.
A 2017 global survey of large firms found that 4 out of 5 companies send faxes regularly, with many sending even more faxes that year than they did in 2016. In the age of email and cloud computing, millions of faxes are sent and received across the world every single day, with an estimated 17 billion faxes sent each year. These machines are particularly popular in countries like Germany and Japan, as well as key sectors, like healthcare.
Mostly it has to do with legality. Unlike electronic signatures, fax is a universally recognized form of legal communication. Plus, unlike emails, faxes allow for instant confirmation that messages have been received. It doesn’t hurt that fax machines are also keeping up with the times, in their own way. Some cloud-based fax services now allow people to treat faxes as electronic documents.
The clickity-clack of typewriters may no longer be as common as it was in the 20th century, but recent documentaries like 2016’s California Typewriter, featuring Tom Hanks, have helped popularize vintage typewriters once again.
Much like vinyl records and Polaroid cameras, typewriters are drawing in younger people, who’ve grown up in the age of computers and smartphones, with a special kind of charm.
Typewriters can be useful for those looking to slow down in today’s digital world. After all, it’s just you and the keys — no distractions from the internet. Plus, a typewriter can’t exactly crash and give you the blue screen of death. It also offers some practical uses for lawyers and other professionals. It can’t be hacked, and typewritten documents can simply be shredded when no longer needed.
But for vintage-lovers looking for the typewriter experience without an actual typewriter, there are now Bluetooth keyboards made to look like typewriters, and even a Google Chrome extension to add that nostalgic clickity-clack to your work day.
Cathode Ray Tube TVs
Today’s gamers have a deep love affair with retro titles, with the likes of Pong and Doom enjoying considerable popularity in today’s digital era. But it seems that gamers are taking their love of all things vintage one step further by bringing back cathode-ray tube (CRT) TVs.
That’s right — those bulky old TV sets that disappeared as shiny flat-screen TVs made their way into homes everywhere are now staging their own comeback. In his article, “Your Grandma’s Tube TV Is the Hottest Gaming Tech,” Wired’s Aiden Moher points out that prices for quality CRT TVs have been soaring on sites like eBay, with some selling for nearly $4,000.
Again, you might be asking: Why?
For gamers, the answer is simple. Retro games were designed for retro TV sets, and the difference in quality between playing games on modern screens versus the bulky TVs they were designed for is pretty astounding.
Game makers of the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s worked around the limitations of the TVs of their time, developing a certain kind of artistry in using the tech’s imperfections to create beautiful graphics.
This is why what looks like sharp pixels on today’s screens transforms into richer illustrations with depth and dimension on older TVs, and it’s this effect that’s driving the market for boxy old CRTs in the time of smart TVs.
What Goes Around Comes Around
Rather than simply dwelling in the past, nostalgia offers us new and interesting ways to think about our present and future. Though there’s no right or wrong tech to use in our daily lives, the gadgets described above certainly allow for new experiences in today’s fast-paced digital world.
What’s your favorite new old tech?