The View
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Welcome back Nokia, Kodak, vinyl, and even book shops (remember them?)

How wonderful to see the return of the age-old adage: ‘simple is good’. Anyone who believes that book reading or eating are mere matters of utility deserves considerable sympathy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 February, 2017, 10:52am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 February, 2017, 10:57pm

Vindication is a dish best served as often as possible.

So expect no apologies from this quarter for returning to the subject of mobile telephony just three months since last writing about my deep affection for a very simple mobile phone called the Samsung Anycall.

Apparently the message that simple is good has also been received by HMD, the Finnish company which bought the rights to Nokia mobile phones and is planning to re-launch the classic Nokia 3310 at a time when makers of infinitely more sophisticated smartphones are grappling with where to go from here.

Nokia sold more than 100 million of these phones that were famous for indestructability, long battery life, compactness, ease of use and yes, sheer quality. I only went over to the Anycall after my much loved Nokia’s screen was fractured in a motorcycle accident, the rest of the phone survived this somewhat traumatic event but there was no screen replacement to be found here in Hong Kong and I was much mocked for even trying to find one.

It’s great news that the Nokia phone is coming back...Kodak is planning to revive its 35mm Ektachrome film, killed of in 2012... then there is the burgeoning boom in vinyl records

Anyway, it’s great news that the Nokia phone is coming back, presumably at the kind of modest price currently attached to the Anycall. It will almost certainly sell well.

And us techno-recidivists have even more to celebrate. Kodak is planning to revive its 35mm Ektachrome film, killed of in 2012 but, according to the company, this 135x36 format film, much loved by photographers, is very much back in demand.

Then there is the burgeoning boom in vinyl records, valued for their ability to produce clear and crisp sound and, not least, the tactile pleasure of owning recordings encased in interesting covers that can be stored and handled by enthusiasts.

What links these three developments? It is obvious. All three were quality products, which were much loved in their day and much missed once other, more sophisticated, technologies appeared to have made them redundant.

This harking back to older technologies can easily be dismissed as nostalgia and there is no denying that this is part of the equation but even holdouts like myself do not simply yearn for the past but are yearning for products offering the kind of genuine usefulness and simplicity that has been lost in newer offerings.

Thus, for example, I am not in the slightest bit interested in the revival of the old elephant-weight portable computers that I used to lug around various Asian countries for filing stories.

I have no particularly fond memories of going into hotel rooms and finding ways of stripping down the telephone plug so that these troublesome beasts could be pressed into service as communication devices.

What links these three developments? ...All are quality products, which were much loved in their day and much missed once other, more sophisticated, technologies appeared to have made them redundant

Nor indeed do I miss the ‘joy’ of battery exhaustion just at the point when an anxious editor was reminding me of the copy deadline. There is a certain grim satisfaction in having mastered all this fussing about but no desire to do it any longer.

Arguably the most telling of the allegedly anachronistic developments, however, is the return of the bookshop trade. In most parts of the world e-book sales are either levelling off or declining following a decade of impressive growth. Readers are rediscovering the joys of the printed word. It is a total mystery to me why any sane person seriously believed that an e-book was somehow a great substitute for the considerable pleasure of browsing through a really good bookstore and discovering books that you had not dreamt of buying until you got there.

And, as in the case of vinyl records, there is also the matter of a tactile connection with the products. Not for nothing do people fill their homes with bookcases containing volumes that often look good and, more importantly, are sitting there to be revisited at your leisure.

The case for the e-book, as I understand it, is convenience. Apparently for next to nothing you can download all manner of books onto something called a reader and cart this little device around with no need ever to go to a bookstore.

This argument seems suspiciously on a par with the idea that all food can be liquidised and slurped for its nutritional qualities without the need to bother with cooking or any of the other complex procedures that go into making great dishes. Anyone who believes that book reading or eating are mere matters of utility deserves considerable sympathy.

Waterstones, one of Britain’s dominant booksellers, has been brought back from the dead by virtue of a policy of putting more books in the stores and allowing the staff at each outlet to determine which books might be of most interest to their customers.

Up-selling algorithms have been consigned to the bin and sales have soared; it is a comprehensive victory for human intelligence and should be celebrated.

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