OPINION: The nostalgia wave makes sure retro tech remains cool

Vinyl records and classic gaming cling on to the "first love" title

The best present I ever got for Christmas came nearly two years ago, in 2014.

I woke up to find two big boxes in the sitting room. One was a Philips record player that was a Bluetooth speaker, CD player, and radio. It’s my all-round audio entertainment centre.

The other box was my mother’s collection of old vinyl records from when she was my age, back in the late 70s. This was the best gift I could ever receive.

I’m a music junkie, and have transitioned through all the different types of music technology there has been through my lifetime, from a Walkman and tape cassettes, to CDs, to digital and streaming music.

Getting a box of vinyl records, with everything from Elvis to Frank Sinatra, was many gifts wrapped into one. First, it was an incredible gift of music. While some of it was classic 70s cheese – looking at you, Bay City Rollers – most of it is wonderful.

But it was also a brilliant gift of technology that I didn’t realise was up in our attic.

You can’t go to a music shop now without being surrounded by vinyl records. For a long while, I thought they were silly, reserved for elite hipsters and audiophiles alike. Why bother with it when you have close to every song ever recorded right in your pocket.

Then I got some records, and I understood why they’re important today. It’s still, far and away, the best way to present music, to give it a sense of importance. A giant slab of vinyl means more than some digital bits. This was my mother’s life when she was my age, so now I’m adding my own touches to the collection.

Generational tech

It’s very rare that any form of technology can be handed down through generations, let alone one that still works. Tech changes incredibly fast. The phone that you could be reading this on right now is probably already out of date. My apologies.

Apart from being some tech that can last generations, vinyl records hold a special place in people’s heart. It was probably through vinyl records that a lot of people got interested in technology, by putting the needle on the plastic and having music appear.

 

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That retro technology, from everyone’s past, really helped to shape our view of the world, and we haven’t let go of it, just merely laid it down for a little bit while we moved on.

It happens in college. You’re big into video games or cartoons as a child, pretend you’re far too cool for them in your teenage years, but come college age, you’re all about it again.

That’s now happening with technology. People want back to what they had before. The vinyls and the games consoles are back in style because we’ve passed the point that we didn’t think they were cool.

Any new band will give you their album on vinyl, and game developers are remastering classic titles for modern consoles. All because it’s cool again.

What makes it cool? It’s just the fact that this was what we grew up with, frankly.

Nintendo are releasing a new version of their classic NES console, that has 30 games built in. By today’s standards, of course they’re poor games, but there is a big audience there that Nintendo knows it’s selling to. Those who will coast on the nostalgia and the coolness.

First love

What is classed as cool is, always, a matter of taste. But vinyl and retro tech is seamlessly cool because of its deep meaning to so many people. When it’s a first love, it’s always cool to us, whether a slice of plastic or a terrible 8-bit game.

While writing this, I was listening to a vinyl record. One of my own choices. Behind me, I’ve got a shelf on my wall full of gadgets from my childhood and teenage years. There’s a Gameboy, a Walkman, even a portable DVD player.

They are completely incompatible with my life today. And yet, they’re all so cool to me. I remember travelling the country with all of them with me, providing hours of entertainment. Well, not hours, the batteries weren’t that great.

Retro tech doesn’t have to be wholly functional. It’s not meant to be the all-in-one computer in our pocket, that’s what our modern tech is for. The old stuff can get away with doing little but doing it well. That makes it cool.

My record players sits pride of place in my room. Whenever I want sound to fill it, it turn it up loud and either play something from Spotify on Bluetooth or tune in a radio station. But if I want to do that and feel pretty damn cool, I put on a record.

And maybe some shades too. They're cool, right?