Vintage electronics make a comeback

Why old media will never go out of style

There is a constant electric glow everywhere. 

Screens – smartphones, computers, TVs, tablets, watches and e-readers – reflect off the faces and glasses of nearly every person. 

Headphones allow them to live in their own worlds, closed off, undisturbed. They are not required to experience and observe the world around them. They absentmindedly scroll through Instagram feeds, Twitter timelines, Facebook walls and digital books without speaking, without facial expression, without physically touching something that creates a tangible connection.

The Power of Paper

In April, it was reported by The Association of American Publishers (AAP) that e-book sales plunged 18.7 percent in the first months of 2016, while paperback sales increased 7.5 percent and hardcover sales increased 4.1 percent in the same period. A study done by Pew Research Center found that 65 percent of Americans reported reading a printed book in the past year, compared to only 28 percent who read an e-book.

This all came after a year in which many people tried out digital detoxes. 

“I don’t think that books are ever going to be obsolete because nothing digital can replicate the experience of holding a book,” Hailey Tang, a junior and graphic design major at Arizona State University says.

One day, Tang wandered into the basement of the art building wanting to explore what was there, see the studios and get a sense of the differences between the art school and design school. That’s where they met their future mentor, Daniel Mayer who works with Pyracantha Press. 

“He (Dan Mayer) told me all about letterpress and printing presses and really got me into book arts, too. So, after I talked to him, I was basically hooked.”

The School of Art’s Pyracantha Press and book arts program owns a pristine letterpress type and vintage hand presses. The entire collection is large enough that it occupies 2,000 square-feet and is spread out over two locations. 

Since the early 1980s, Pyracantha has produced about 30 books for national and international authors and has recreated works by the likes of William Shakespeare. 

“Just having the physical item to interact with and flip the pages, I think, is just a really unique experience that nothing digital can replace,” Tang says.

There is no denying the fact that the electronics that saturate our attention are physical objects. But what about what is “living” inside them? 

Since the dawn of time, people have assigned meaning to things. More and more, we are seeing an increase in the mediums which produce something tangible, something we can touch. 

Your go-to break-up album, the last photo you took with a loved one, they all probably live inside a machine, untouchable. As more people begin digital detoxes, it seems they are investing in physical products rather than digital downloads.

Vinyl Killed the Digital Star

 In 2016, vinyl record sales reached a 25-year high. More than 3.2 million LP’s were sold – a 53 percent increase from 2015 and the highest number since 1991, according to the British Phonographic Industry (BPI). 

In 2017, vinyl record sales are projected to reach 40 million units, with sales reaching $1 billion for the first time this century, according to Forbes

In an interview with Forbes, Toddrick Spalding, the director of music at the trailer production agency, Mob Scene, says today’s consumers want to own something they can hold in their hands, that listening to vinyl is a physical act. He says it is an active choice to pull out a record from its sleeve and then eventually flip the side to continue listening, rather than telling Siri or Alexa to start another playlist.

Subscription services like VNYL and Vinyl Me Please deliver the products right to your door, catering to our online shopping addictions. For as little as $25 a month, you can get a vinyl sent directly to you. The accessibility of the product is contributing to what’s driving record sales.

Awareness and publicity go hand in hand with accessibility. 

Record Store Day celebrated its 10th year in 2017 and saw total album sales at independent retailers rise 193 percent (to 649,000), while vinyl album sales at independent retailers grew 484 percent (to 409,000). 

According to Billboard, both increases are the largest weekly gains for the respective formats in the retail sector in Record Store Day’s 10-year history.

Much like vinyl records, film cameras are also seeing a jump in sales according to David Hunsaker at Tempe Camera. 

#35MM: The Anti-Instant Gratification

David Hunsaker, a sales manager at Tempe Camera – located about five blocks from Mill Ave. – has been a photographer for 44 years. He says there has been a jump in film sales that started about three years ago. In the last two years, he says film sales have increased 2,000 percent. 

“There’s a big, I hate to call it a cult because that’s almost bad, but there is a cult, especially young people that are just excited to have this film experience,” Hunsaker says. 

With 9,421,116 posts on Instagram using #35mm, at the time of publication, it seems a lot of people are interested in film photography.

“Maybe it’s just an aesthetic, more than anything,” Hunsaker says. “There’s just an ambience to film that doesn’t exist with digital.” 

Hunsaker describes shooting with film as a “magical process.” 

“Digital is old hat to them – that’s how they grew up,” Hunsaker says. “But, this film thing is almost magical. You don’t always know what you’re going to get and you don’t get to know what you got until you get your film processed. It’s almost a magical process to them.” 

The veteran photographer does not see the trend going away any time soon. In fact, he thinks the movement toward film photography will remain strong for at least the next five years. 

“You can call it a fad in the fact that it just started in this wave, but I would say it’s more a collective of artistic thought,” he says. “I hope it continues because film is a cool thing.” 

If you are wondering, pyracantha is a thorny evergreen Eurasian shrub with white flowers and bright red or yellow berries. In a work published in 1662, John Evelyn described it using the words “perpetual verdure,” which loosely means “forever fresh.” 

Like pyracantha, these mediums will forever be fresh novelties as generations in an increasingly digital world continue to rediscover them. 


Reach the reporter at ngimpl@asu.edu or follow @nicolegimpl_ on Twitter.

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