Nokia 3310, instant cameras, vinyl records . . . younger generations embrace the freedom and beauty of old tech

Old tech provides the balance between the digital and the physical that people are seeking in their lives, says expert

There is a beautiful paradox in the fact that the future of technology seems to lie in the past as the revival of old tech endures in popularity.

Devices once thought to be slow, clunky, or impractical, compared with their modern counterparts, are proving their worth. Slow tech or old tech is not ready for the scrap heap just yet. The Nokia 3310 that sat dutifully in a drawer for more than a decade until I decided to clear out said drawer and offload the “brick” is a wonderful reminder of the simplicity of old tech considering most of my generation had some variation of a Nokia.

It’s also a damning reminder of how much I regret and miss the simplicity of calls and texts and the addiction to snake from the most durable device I have ever owned. With the Nokia 3310 making a clear and distinctive revival in 2017, modified and updated in some of the most simplistic of ways in comparison with the smartphones we have grown used to, the resurgence of old tech goes beyond old-school phones.

Devices such as digital cameras have made a comeback with instant cameras proving incredibly popular. You will find Tamagotchis, the interactive virtual pet, have also made an interesting comeback. Old-school consoles have been refurbished, reimagined and repositioned back on the shelves as the nostalgia of 16-bit machines is realised with quick and simple plug-and-play consoles such as the Sega Genesis Mini.


Lucy Hall, a digital education enthusiast and founder of Digital Women and Social Day, recognises that there are a few reasons behind this revival and interest in older technology. “Firstly, the tactility and physicality of these devices offer an experience that is different from the purely digital interactions that dominate most modern tech,” she says. “Secondly, many people enjoy the nostalgia and history associated with older devices. In an age where technology tends to isolate us, these older devices often promote more social and communal interactions.”

Nostalgia is certainly a selling point for old tech. Hall is cognisant that marketers have realised the potential of nostalgia to evoke positive emotions which has a unique effect on our spending. “Nostalgia marketing has become a recognised marketing strategy,” she says. “It leverages positive memories and feelings associated with the past to create an emotional connection with consumers.”

It’s a “potent force”, she says, as we rekindle memories and the familiarity that come with it. “It is used to promote a variety of products and experiences, from films and video games to clothing and technology. The success of many retro-themed products and services indicates that consumers respond positively to nostalgia.”

Longing for our past comforts is not the only driving force behind the old tech revival. The growing disillusionment with smart technology, especially among Gen Z, is another as the omnipresent and often overwhelming nature of smartphones is replaced by simplicity, anonymity and a level of disconnection. “The reasons can be varied,” says Hall. “Privacy concerns, the mental health impacts of constant connectivity, the desire for more meaningful or tactile experiences, or even just digital fatigue. This isn’t to say that smart technology is on its way out, but rather that people are seeking a balance between the digital and the physical in their lives.”

Safety and security matters are also a factor in leaning towards older models of technology. “The constant flow of news about data breaches, privacy violations and identity theft can make analogue and less connected devices seem appealing,” says Hall. “In addition, these devices are often simpler and more straightforward to use, minimising the risk of potential security pitfalls associated with more complex systems.”

Typewriters have seen their own revival take place with the click and clack of keys, and vinyl has seen a resurgence perhaps like no other. The vinyl classic was originally made from shellac resin which ceased production in the late 1950s. It was replaced by PVC which gave the vinyl market a second lease of life. Decades later, vinyl became the music enthusiast preferred format for its originality of sound.

Since 2009, Jonathan Holmes is a collector of “78s” (referring to the speed of around 78 revolutions per minute). “For someone who is a fan of music from the 1920s and 30s it’s the only way I can access the music I love,” he says. “While a lot of the more well-known names have had their titles reissued on CDs in recent years, the vast majority of the music I want to hear has never been reissued, so the only way I can hear it is by buying the original. On top of that, I often feel like the richness of the recordings are lost on CD transfers and the whole thing can sound rather flat. 78s are delicate, breakable, often dirty and worn, but they have a magic about them that Spotify can’t provide.”

Logan Kelly, a young Gen Z podcaster and music fan, has a preference for vinyl also. “When I go on to my laptop and open up Spotify, I get a condensed MP3,” he says. “When I put the record on to my turntable, I hear a broader sound. It’s amazing the different effects that are in a song. I much prefer to listen to vinyl because it’s the way music was meant to be listened to.”

For Jonathan, part of the reason he is a collector of vinyl is due in no small part to the accomplishment in finding a rare or unknown track. “Digging through dusty junk shops to find a pristine copy of something gives a sense of achievement that just can’t be replicated by downloading tracks,” he says.

Turntables no longer sit in dusty attics, as vinyl has taken precedent over CDs and downloads. Roger Batchelor is product specialist at Denon, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of high-quality home entertainment products including a minimalist record player that’s perfect for the ongoing vinyl revival. He says that “the fascination with technology from the past is surely much the same for all generations and why many of us enjoy visiting museums, vintage car events and browsing in antique shops and fairs. There is also ongoing interest from some of the older generation who still have their original collections and, in some cases, are adding remastered copies of their favourite albums and maybe some new releases too.”

When it comes to the rise in vinyl and turntables, Batchelor says that this is driven by quality, expertise and tradition which comes from “the interest in a format from an earlier era, and the large sleeve for album artwork and information. Also, the perceived ‘natural’, warm sound quality associated with vinyl discs which many people appreciate. In addition, there can be more involvement in an album by taking the time to sit down and listen to the complete performance of each side of a disc as the artist intended, rather than being tempted to skip tracks. There is also something about the ritual of operating a turntable that seems to have an appeal for many.”

While there is no stalling the revival of old tech, the subculture of updating and modding older devices, consoles and technology also has the ability to continue the disruption of old and slow tech bringing it to a vast nostalgic audience.

Have you checked the back of the drawer lately? What old tech do you have that is waiting to be rediscovered?

Read more from our screentime series here.