Automation. Digitization. Smaller, faster, sleeker. These are the directions in which progress goes nowadays. We want the technology in our pockets to keep up with our accelerating lives. Yet if this is the case, then why are certain old-school technologies making a comeback? No one knows what a Walkman is, but every North American hipster worth their salt owns vinyl. Perhaps in the form of a suitcase turntable with Bluetooth and a pastel-blue exterior. Or perhaps even a restored old-school turntable given away at a garage sale 10 years ago when it wasn’t worth the basement space it took up. And maybe all they own on vinyl is Taylor Swift and Jay-Z. Nevertheless, vinyl sales have increased by 50% since the early 2000s, and half of new buyers are young people.
Another vintage trend yellowing the edges of technology culture is Polaroid cameras. Or rather Fujifilm Instax cameras. Every freshwoman in university has a series of Polaroid photos hanging below a string of faerie lights in their dorm. And many Instagram photos nowadays are in fact photos of Polaroids.
The instant camera was invented in 1947 by a brilliant man by the name of Edwin Land. Before the invention of digital cameras, using an instant camera was the only way to see a photograph almost immediately after it had been taken. But now we have digital cameras. Even better, we have supercomputers in our pockets that act as high-quality cameras.
So why bother with the impracticality of instant cameras? Is it just a trend? Or is it something more significant? Has smaller, faster, sleeker taken away a piece of our creativity, a piece of our identity that we never knew was missing?
According to Fujifilm, “an innovative product is one that helps people experience their lives and the world in a fresh and exciting way.” For Geoffrey Belknap, a historian of visual culture at the University of Leicester, each innovation offers “a specific lens on the world” and a unique “material presence.” He “wouldn’t say that we are going back to analogue technologies. We are just starting to remember the specificity of their value for doing work that digital images can’t do.”
Florian Kaps, an entrepreneur and lover of Polaroid technology is of the opinion that “this is not a trend, but the (not very surprising) discovery that the trend called digital creates a virtual outcome to be experienced just with our eyes and ears. Therefore people started to rediscover real things they can actually hold in their hands...and in their soul forever.”
We view much of our lives on a screen, and we own virtual things instead of tangible things. Music from an app, photos from an app, dating on an app. Through instant photos and vinyl, we are taking back the use of all our senses, and taking back ownership of concrete things. We want to own our music and own our photos, so we reach for Polaroids and vinyl and the satisfaction of actually holding something in our hands.