The young Hongkongers going analogue in a digital world
A growing band of young Hongkongers are pursuing a pre-digital lifestyle - using analogue cameras, listening to vinyl records, spurning e-books and even mailing each other postcards
A digital backlash is mounting in Hong Kong as young people seek out an old-fashioned, analogue experience.
As consumers focus firmly on the newest smartphone or tablet, there has been little demand for old-school gadgets - retro collectibles are much harder to find in Hong Kong than in other major world cities, where vintage stores have long been a shopping staple.
But interest in the pre-digital era is growing as the city’s younger generations seek out everything from film cameras to vinyl records in response to the hi-tech deluge.
“We are constantly bombarded by an endless stream of advertisements for the newest and latest gadgets in our everyday lives, says Sonia Ho, 24, who works at an architectural design firm.
“The functions of a radio, typewriter or even a light meter can be easily downloaded onto our smartphones ... but we’re losing the idea of how a particular item actually works,” said Ho, who now prefers a second-hand Nikon FE2 film camera to the digital models she previously used.
“It’s like being assigned to continue the adventures of the camera from the previous owner and start to capture your own,” Ho said.
A growing number of younger photographers in Hong Kong are experimenting with old film cameras - some painstakingly scanning their film photos onto a computer to share on social media feed Instagram. Ho shares hers under the handle soniahyh.
Tinny Kwan, who owns a film processing store popular with young photographers in the residential area of Prince Edward, says they are starting to discover the joys of delayed gratification.
“It’s like the feeling of gambling. There is a sense of excitement right up until you can see the photos ... with digital, you can see it immediately, that sense of curiosity is lacking,” says Kwan, whose shop is popular with young photographers.
There is also new interest in vinyl from music fans who have only ever known CDs or digital, says Mr Chan, owner of record shop Collectables in Central district.
Chan’s collection spans hundreds of classical, jazz, rock and Cantonese pop records.
“If you have always listened to digital, you may not have experienced the audio characteristics [of a vinyl record] before,” says Chan.
“When you listening to the vocals, you realise there is something more in the recording.”
Browsing the vinyl section at the HMV music store, which also sells vintage records and reprints, 15-year-old high-school student Alvin Fan said analogue albums have given him an alternative way to listen to music.
“It creates a different atmosphere, a different mood and a very different feeling,” said Fan, who was introduced to vinyl records by his grandparents.
Zachary Chan, 21, who works at a music store, says it is becoming increasingly fashionable for young Hongkongers to turn to records over digital.
“The value of a vinyl record is stronger in a subjective sense - holding a record in your hands, rather than seeing the digital album on iTunes. There is a difference,” Chan said.
The resurgence of film cameras and vinyl is part of a growing determination to experience simple pleasures in the face of a quick-fix digital lifestyle.
Some teens have reverted to sending postcards to their friends as a more satisfying alternative to e-mail.
And the city’s bookstores are often crammed with readers, young and old, despite the multitude of downloadable e-books.
Vinyl fan Alvin says he prefers physical books to e-readers.
“A lot of people, even my friends, still love the feeling of holding a physical book and reading it. It just feels more real,” he said.
Decades-old store signs, antique radios and old cinema chairs are just some of the items crammed into 34-year-old Lai Chun-fai’s small store in Prince Edward, a vintage aesthetic which is not yet mainstream in Hong Kong.
“I just feel that the design of older items is more interesting than modern objects,” says Lai.
While it may look like a vintage treasure trove, the only things for sale are the analogue cameras, Lai’s speciality - hence the name: Classic Camera Shop.
“I wanted to display older cameras that not many others have seen in Hong Kong,” said Lai, who first started selling old Leica models.
Shooting on film is a happier, more memorable experience, he says, and one that is luring some youngsters.
“They have told me they remember the moment when they take the photo on film. As a result, they don’t really look at the photos they took with their smartphones any more,” says Lai.
“The pictures I took 10 years ago ... I still remember what was happening in that photograph.”