Backwards to the future: yesterday’s technology making a comeback

Products once thought to be past their expiry date are finding a niche market among those who see them having superior qualities to the latest technology

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 March, 2016, 2:01pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 March, 2016, 2:00pm

If you are reading this on what I am told is called an app or some other kind of device it seems only fair to issue an immediate warning because what follows is quite likely to upset you.

So, apologies for upsetting more technologically advanced readers but there comes a time when those of us who have lagged behind in the hi-tech revolution can no longer be cowed into silence.

We may be so “yesterday” but, it turns out that yesterday is quite something of a niche market, and I am not talking about a market for nostalgia or so called vintage products but about products that were confidently consigned to the dustbin on grounds of a technology expiry date but have turned out to have qualities that are superior to the latest item with the letter “i” attached to it.

Last week newspapers got excited by figures from the Recording Association of America showing that streaming has, for the first time, become the biggest earner for the recorded music business. Way lower down in most of these reports was news that vinyl LP sales had surged 32 per cent to US$461 million last year. In percentage terms that’s a far bigger increase than the musical streaming industry achieved, although, admittedly about one fifth lower in terms of revenue.

However, the rebirth of vinyl produced far better earnings than the billions of free streams that are seeking to make money by attaching their offerings to advertising.

So, what is it about vinyl that stubbornly refuses to die? The answer is simple; no other recording device has yet succeeded in reproducing the quality and subtlety of vinyl. The only surprise is that it has taken quite so long for people to notice this.

It has proved more difficult to get figures for the upsurge in sales of another “redundant” product – the facsimile machine. Yet more and more faxes are being used by companies and individuals (and, significantly, governments) who have discovered that there is no more secure form of written communication than the old facsimile machines, which cannot be hacked or intercepted in the ways that emails and other computer-based communications can.

The only way an unauthorised person can discover what passes through a fax machine is to get their hands on the machine itself which is a hell of a lot more difficult than exposing your communications to all manner of bad people sitting in a room somewhere with an ability to dip in and out of supposedly secure computer networks. Their utility is therefore rather obvious and I refuse to be mocked for having this equipment both at home and in the office.

Oh and by the way, fax machines are dirt cheap as the manufacturers seek to make their money by selling the printer ink, which is ludicrously expensive.

Meanwhile, I suddenly find I am no longer alone in not carry a smartphone. Maybe this is part of growing realisation that the principal purpose of a mobile phone is to make telephone calls and, in my case, send as few text messages as possible.

It is true that I have to sacrifice the pleasure of gatherings where no one speaks, as they are busy with their smartphones, and I really miss being messaged night and day via various platforms that offer the dubious pleasure of constant online communication.

However, I quite enjoy using a phone which has a better microphone and receiver than most smartphones, good enough, incidentally, to be used for live radio interviews and I entirely relish the fact that when someone calls it is usually for a purpose, by which I don’t mean, a message containing a picture of what that person is about to eat.

It seems I am no longer alone and a new breed of companies have gone into the business of making mobile phones, that, er, can be used mainly for making phone calls. Swiss based Punkt, for example, has done quite a stylish (and pricey) job of it but I’m sticking with my trusty Samsung Keystone 2, which apparently is also highly favoured by drug dealers.

We’re not quite done because I am pleased to report that Amazon, the company synonymous with the latest in online shopping, has discovered a new way of selling books. It’s called bookshops and Amazon is opening a number of stores. Maybe a little bird told them that few things are more pleasurable in life than spending time browsing through a decent bookstore.

So here’s the bottom line: products and services that were discarded in the rush for the new often turn out to be better and have a use that is yet to be achieved in the world of new technology. It’s not a case of nostalgia but utility.

Stephen Vines runs companies in the food sector and moonlights as a journalist and broadcaster