Technological Waste
Cassettes are obsolete - right? Photograph by Getty Images

3 Reasons Old Tech Doesn’t Die

Mar 20, 2016

In the past few years, it’s become clear that old technologies like vinyl records, analog cameras, and print books are managing to hang on in the world of streaming music, smartphones, and ebooks. Writing in the New York Times, columnist Nick Bilton has unpacked some of the forces that give those standbys continuing appeal in the face of relentless innovation.

Bilton describes three forces feeding the survival, and even resurgence, of formats that can seem inconvenient or unwieldy compared to their newer competition. Some of them are emotional and aesthetic, while others are relentlessly practical.

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Familiarity, for example, keeps some readers attached to things like print newspapers and books. But, particularly in the case of newspapers, that’s a weak and fading motivation, mostly confined to older consumers. Daily newspaper circulation as a percentage of population has steadily declined, from 35% in 1945 to less than 15% in 2014.

More promising for businesses is the pull of nostalgia, which can attract users who never touched a particular technology when it was new. The desire to connect with a past that’s seen as more authentic has drawn millennials to vinyl records in droves, leading, for instance, to the re-release of classic turntables by major brands like Panasonic. Even cassettes still have their adherents for similar reasons, and there's a sizable movement back to film cameras, particularly easy-to-use instant cameras like the Fuji Instax, which are huge with millennials.

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Bilton also cites a few very practical reasons older tech can remain appealing, the most interesting of which is security. Celebrities nervous about leaks, for instance, have serious motivation to keep photos in analog, offline formats. With Americans increasingly conscious of cybersecurity risks from both hackers and their own government, that motivation seems likely to spread.

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