Stop the world – I want to get off!

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Ana­logue transport – it gets you there in the end.

by Colin McIntosh

The speed at which fashions change has been increasing since the first humans decided to bling up their bearskins with a few feathers. Technology too has a tendency to accelerate in a bewildering fashion. Just think that it took five thousand years to add one wheel to another to make a bicycle, whereas the last thirty years have seen us move from dumbphones the size of bricks to the iPhone 7.

What if we could just stop the clock? There is no shortage of people shouting “Stop the world – I want to get off!” This can be seen in a variety of countercultures and anti-fashions that now clamour for our attention.

Where once we had hi-fi as the latest thing, we now have lo-fi. Now cutting-edge lo-fi bands record their music on antique audio cassette recorders (remember those?), with predictably unlistenable results. (Of course, to get the music to their fans they then have to upload it to the internet.) And lo-fi doesn’t just refer to music – it can also be about the avoidance of digital technology in general. So a gas oven is a lo-fi alternative to a microwave, and going to the theatre is the lo-fi version of streaming a movie. Analogue (analog in the US) is used in the same way: e-books are digital, printed books are analogue.

The e-book was heralded as the miracle of the modern world when it first came out, but now it seems that, after an initial flush of enthusiasm, sales have started to decline as readers return to p-books (paper books). Many people, even digital natives, say they just prefer the feeling of turning the pages. And even the once-derided LP record is making a strong comeback. Now generally referred to rather more glamourously as vinyl, connoisseurs will swear blind that they actually prefer the clicks and pops and the analogue hiss. True, nothing beats a beautifully designed and printed hardback or a twelve-inch LP sleeve. It seems that people just prefer to own stuff physically, not just virtually.

Even analogue photography is riding a trend with lomography, a technique using photographic film and old-style cameras that produces less-than-sharp images and unrealistic colours, but surprisingly atmospheric photographs. Lomography gets its name from a Soviet-era 35-millimetre camera, the Lomo LC-A, which was taken up by a group of artists in the 90s and then became a craze in the 21st century.

And even when new technology is adopted, it can be dressed up to look old. This is the essence of the steampunk phenomenon. Steampunk is part of a general taste for the old known as retro. It started as a style within the sci-fi and fantasy genres, often with post-apocalyptic overtones (maybe the aliens made all the computers crash?). It borrows imagery from the Victorian era and beyond, and mashes it up with new technology, and the look has influenced everything from fashion to movies to interior design – maybe you even own a desk lamp made out of copper piping?

If your tastes are less extreme, you may prefer the vintage trend. This involves reviving the style of a specific era, usually from the second half of the 20th century. Clothes, hairstyles, furniture, and music can all be described as vintage. Charity shops are booming!

And what does all this turning back the clock say about us? It’s not just old people’s nostalgia for the good old days – people born in the digital age are also taking up the retro aesthetic. Perhaps it is just a reaction to the frenetic pace of change that we all find just too much.

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