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Mar 10, 2017
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While Samsung and Huawei may have wished to hog the spotlight in this year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last month, the true breakthrough star of the annual event was a phone that can't even connect to a 3G network.

The Nokia 3310 Mark II carved out a lion's share of the tech news cycle, an anachronistic throwback to the pioneering days of Finland's best known brand.

Nokia isn't alone in this throwback trend, though. Brands like Nintendo and Kodak, and formats like, uhm, cassettes and Video 8 are poised for a comeback. What was old is new again; welcome to the future.

There are several reasons for the pressure wave of "technostalgia" making itself felt with today's technology consumers. Here are the Top 5.


We're all grown up and earning

The kids of the seventies and eighties are now adults, a major spending bloc which tech manufacturers know to tap. When presented with something that harks back to their childhood, these former kids, myself included, can't help but fall for the sucker pitch.

Whether it's an update of the Nintendo Family Computer or the Polaroid-like instant photography of Fujifilm Instax, it's just a purchase away to relive our childhood one 8-bit game of Contra at a time. My brother gave me one of those bootleg Famicoms for Christmas, a clone of the old late '80s console, not the updated official model with the HDMI port. HD1080p be damned, I still get my fingers in a twist whenever I play Donkey Kong.


Film just won't die

The digital camera tried to kill film, but it failed. Buoyed in part by the Lomography craze during the '90s and aughts, and the unflinching faith of old-school photographers, film has survived despite the odds. In fact, the market for film is now growing enough (5% year-on-year according to film company Ilford) for manufacturers like Kodak to start making film again.

The venerable film stock Kodak Ektachrome will be produced again starting this year, after being discontinued in 2012. Kodak has also been pimping their upcoming Digital Super 8 camera, which uses Super 8 film but has an LCD monitor, SD card support and an HDMI out. Fujifilm, on the other hand, still produces color negative and color reversal films, and forges ahead in its development of instant film. Instax Square is just a few months away, the format that will best approximate the iconic Polaroid.

Classics are classics for a reason

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While we're talking about film, we might as well talk about the popularity of modern analog-style cameras, where the settings and controls are physical, rather than buried under layers of on-screen menus or adjusted by touchscreen.

Cameras like the Fujifilm X100T and the Leica M series hark back to the SLRs and rangefinders of (not-so) old, having physical aperture, shutter speed and ISO controls. These let you adjust your settings on the fly, without having to constantly chimp at your screen. You shoot through a viewfinder, just like old times, a more intimate creative experience than having to compose your shot with the camera at an arm's length.

The rejection of the modern

When every new phone looks like an iPhone, it's hard to find a phone that "defines" you. Not that you'd like to be compared to a Nokia 3310, a mobile phone that first came out just about the time JLo sang "Waiting for Tonight."

It is perhaps the orneriness of the concept that explains the phenomenal demand for the Nokia (now manufactured not by Nokia but by HMD Global Oy) feature phone. Upgraded slightly, the redux now has a color screen, a 2-megapixel camera, and a snazzier version of Snake. Otherwise, it's still a dumb phone, with just a rudimentary browser to insufficiently satiate your surfing appetite. As a burner phone, it is perfect.

Pure nostalgia

In our minds, there is that notion that the past was a golden place to live in. Cleaner air, friendlier people, no traffic, things were built to last, music and fashion were cooler and less disposable, photographers had real talent, autotune didn't exist, and populist movements were small enough to ignore. That's a world we see through rose-tinted glasses, a construct that is as appealing as it is not necessarily true. A glorified past makes us want a piece of it, even if it is a reissued Casio calculator watch and not a vintage one.

 

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