The Tomorrow Museum reports on a trend we’ve been noticing for awhile, now clearly punctuated by the retail giant Urban Outfitters: a little phenomenon we shall call “nostalgia tech.” Take a gander! Nostalgic yet savvy consumers can snap up everything from record players and vintage-esque radios (quick! name even one local radio station, we dare you!) to Olivetti typewriters, industrial clad sewing machines, and toy cameras. And for those of you with a land line, you might consider the Crosley pay phone.
Let’s ruminate on the why. Perhaps a generation of kids raised with a cell phone in one hand and Playstation controller in the other is sick of reading electronic type. Maybe it’s kinda like when generational baby names go through phases of hip and un-hip, and grandparents’ names suddenly seem chic. (When’s the last time you heard Tiffany, Heather, or Kyle around the playground? How about Harriet, Jake, or Emma?) Could it be that we all really just want to be our parents! Or, let’s just hazard a guess that vintage technology has become novelty — the novelty of effort.
The very impracticality of an analog camera that must be taped shut and uses wide-format film that shan’t be processed at Walgreen’s — we’re looking at you, Holga — illustrates the requirement that nostalgia tech is damned inconvenient. Honestly, typing a letter full of paragraphs on the Webster XL-747 is both thunderously loud and somewhat painful. But therein lies the rub: the process alone is worth 90 pounds of hipster weight in street cred. It’s pretty cool that your iPhone tells you how to get to that underground club in Bushwick and all, but I just rotary-dialed the 411 operator, made best friends with her, and scored the unlisted phone number. So there.
There’s nothing wrong with liking old things, or appreciating the craftsmanship of what came before. For example, albums on vinyl emit a completely different sound than their MP3 counterparts, and the happy accidents created with light leaks from a Diana camera have provided a fair amount of affordable art for twenty-something apartments. We have to ask, though, how special a tool really is if it’s been purchased at a retail chain with 140 stores and an estimated 21.7 percent yearly sales growth.
As for the message in a bottle kit currently being sold at sister outlet Anthropologie? That’s just asinine.