A journey back to past technologies
Curiosity has been the cornerstone of the search for continuous evolution in all the media used today. Over the last century, technology and all kinds of media continued to evolve at a staggering rate. The great competition among media and the requirement to respond to demanding customer needs, have made high quality media accessible and easy to use. However, the current trend to engage with older–often analog—media could be considered paradoxical. This desire to “dig” for past media technologies is called technostalgia. Media such as Walkman, Vinyl records,Instant Cameras still carry the special features of the decadethey used to belong to.The will to remain in touch with analog media, even though we have access to their digital descendants, can be proved by the example of the new photo applications with special effects (such as “vintage”) that take us to an era of different aesthetics and media of limited capabilities.
In this essay,the reasons that have led some users to turn to outdated media are examined through theVinyl records example, which proves the contemporary importance of analog media in our lives. Afterwards, it focuses on and compares the capabilities of the well-known Polaroid cameras with these of new applications used by digital media in order to reach the result of analog media. The essay concludeswith an overview of the co-existence of analogue and digital media nowadays.
Although analog was replaced by new, higher quality, interactive and more efficient digital technologies, the comeback of analog media is associated with their anti-digital features. The reason why users started looking for past technologies is because they had the perception of something missing from digital media. A typical example is that of Vinyl Records, an analog media, which in our time was replaced by CDs and then by digital files. The warmth of the sound, the tangible material, the smell of the vinyl contradicts the “cold” process of pressing an MP3 button. A difference between analog and digital is that the former can lead to a unique sensorial stimulation(Jurgenson, N. 14 May 2011). Even though analog media capabilities are limited compared to digital, it appears that audiences are not looking for perfection as much as a high aesthetic experience. Some analog media have the power to take us back to the decade they belong, which makes them unique and precious as they boost nostalgia for this “retro-vintage” style(Van der Heijden, T. 2015). The outdated aesthetics are placed within a contemporary context, they are reproduced and rediscovered by the public(Garda, M.B.2014). As a result, digital media seem more like supplementary than substitutes to analog media as they cover different needs.
Along with the return of vinyl, today’s nostalgic mood has brought back instant cameras for lower quality, but higher aesthetics. It is exciting to experiment with the capabilities of a digital camera in the dark or underwater, but there will always be this bittersweet feeling of capturing moments in a traditional way.Additionally, a photograph captured by a digitalcamera does not follow chemical processes as in the case of analog photography. The image is captured by photosensitive cells and exists only as bits, which refers more to computer graphics and less to real photography (Bolter & Grusin, 2000, p. 105). Digital photography today is not considered as means of proof, precisely because it can be far from reality (Bolter & Grusin, 2000, p. 106), which might degrade some users’ desire for immediacy and authenticity that traditional analog photography promises to offer.
In contrast, photographs taken with instant cameras a few decades ago could reveal the truth of the moment, and their historic context. The ability to physically hold the photo is quite unknown in today’s generation, as photos are nowadays mostly stored in digital files or social media (Van der Heijden, 2005). Users’ will to revive the Polaroid Camera is highlighted by the use of applications, such as InstaMini, which allows users to give analog photo effects. This app allows the user to choose the type of Polaroid camera, depending on the effect they desire. In order to see the photo on the smartphone’s screen the user must shake their mobile device, exactly the way we used to with the printed instant photos. It is therefore a revival of the whole process of taking photos with a Polaroid instant camera. These photos are stored in digital formats, which increases their lifespan, while at the same time the new generations have the opportunity to discover past technology and its evolution.However, the photo is not tangible and you can only access it by owning technological means. The filters used to render a vintage aesthetic in a digital photo, are essentially distorting the story that it is trying to tell, as the picture loses its authenticity(Bevan, K. 19 July 2012). The balance between genuine Polaroid cameras and the new application is maintained by the new Polaroid Snap Instant Digital Camera, ablend of nostalgic Polaroid instant photography and modern technologies. Among its unique features is the ability to store photos in itscamera’s memory, a variety of filters and the immediate printing.
Overall, technostalgia expresses the interests of users to bring past technologies back. From the Polaroid Cameras example, it is deduced that digital media achieved to offset analog media deficiencies and supplement them in order to maintain the unique and distinctive features of analog media. Modern mobile technologies made photographs a more accessible and enjoyable process to the public, as it allowed picture editing and filter refinement simply by touching the screen. However, this mass-taking of edited photos was not enough to keep the world away from the Polaroid Cameras and the pure, authentic effect they offer(Jurgenson, N. 14 May 2011). After all, what makes old instant photos precious is their rarity and their time context instead of filters. Overall, both digital and analog photography favour the creativity of the user, though with different results.
- Bolter, J.D. & Grusin, R. (2000). Introduction: The Double Logic of Remediation. In: Remediation. Understanding New Media. Cambridge (Mass): MIT Press.
- Bevan, K. ‘Instagram is debasing real photography’, The Guardian, 19 July 2012: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/jul/19/instagram-debasing-real-photography
- Garda, M.B. ‘Nostalgia in retro game design’, Proceedings of DiGRA 2013: DeFragging Game Studies, Vol. 7, 2014:http://www.digra.org/wp-content/uploads/digital-library/paper_310.pdf
- Van der Heijden, T. (2015) ‘Technostalgia of the Present: From Technologies of Memory to a Memory of Technologies’. In: NECSUS. European Journal of Media Studies, 4 (2). Available online: https://necsus-ejms.org/technostalgia-present-technologies-memory-memory-technologies/
- Jurgenson, N. ‘The faux-vintage photo’, Cyborgology [blog], 14 May 2011: http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2011/05/14/the-faux-vintage-photo-full-essay-parts-i-ii-and-iii/