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Low-tech nostalgia |

Sunday Lifestyle

Low-tech nostalgia

- Scott R. Garceau -

As we all know by now, vinyl records are making a comeback. I keep hearing this, not from Twitter or Facebook or the Internet, but from young people who collect old records and swear by the merits of crackling fossil fuel by-products. “I like it,” says one young collector, when we older music listeners  who lived through low-tech LP records the first time around, not by choice but by necessity  point out the annoyance of every snap, crackle and pop marring our sonic enjoyment. We tend to look back, not with total Vasoline-on-the-lens fondness, on the memory of record player needles skipping around crazily across our favorite tracks just because we left the damned thing out of its case among the debris in the back of our VW van for too long (this was before deejays would get the idea of intentionally dragging needles across records for “scratching” purposes, mind you).

Yes, but why stop there, I ask? What’s next on the nostalgia circuit? Shall we bring back rotary phones? Who doesn’t miss the fun of waiting approximately 30 seconds for the “dial” to rotate back slowly to its original position after every single digit? Hey, remember when calling a friend took 15 minutes and developed your upper-body strength simultaneously? (Not to mention carpal tunnel syndrome, which didn’t exist back then.) Old phones are so cool, young people even like to sample that bell-ringer sound and download it as cell phone ring tones. Why not go further and use Morse Code as your ring tone? How retro can you get?

But of course, there’s a fine line between retro cool and retro that’s just plain… retro. (Our STAR staff members were recently reminded of this fact during a storytelling luncheon organized by Lifestyle editor Millet Mananquil, when they were called upon to tell tales from the “old days.” We learned that stories recalled from the ‘90s are already considered “retro.” Don’t worry, kids, you’ll be retro too, someday.)

What underlies all this is an understanding  sometimes unspoken, sometimes outspoken  that certain types of design, fashion, music and looks can somehow transcend the decades, somehow make the hop back over to “cool” again. How this happens is a mystery. If a pop cultural icon wears a Trilby hat, it becomes “cool.” If too many wear them, these people become “hipsters” and set themselves up for verbal scorn and abuse.

But old gadgets seem to appeal to the low-tech nostalgia in young people. So, I ask the young ‘uns, how’d you like to dispense with that powerful, everyday couch-side ally, the remote control? Can you even fathom what it was like to physically get up every half an hour and manually turn a TV channel knob to view some other channel? This is, admittedly, like describing the process of building a fire with flint and twigs to someone who is busy microwaving a burrito. It would be pointless to go back to the dark days. Fortunately, there were only a handful of TV stations back then, so not much channel surfing was really involved.

Here’s another thing that probably won’t make a comeback: old porn. Gone are the days of Dad’s old magazine stack, or furtive teenage investigations of contraband VHS tapes. Porn is now out in the open. It’s not unusual, in this day and age, to see co-workers blithely streaming hardcore porn loops on their office computers while slurping a Frappuccino. Who watches porn in broad daylight? In the office? A lot of people, it seems. Their colleagues  an elbow’s length away  don’t even notice because they’re busy playing Plants Vs. Zombies or Farmville.

While we’re at it, shall we bring back typewriters? Fax machines? Pagers? There is something retro cool about old typewriters, it’s true, but it’d be pointless to cling to antiquities when there is such a thing as an iPad. A choice between hauling an old Underwood on a long-haul flight or a netbook is no choice at all.

My daughter is currently enchanted with a computer game, but it’s not contained in a PSP that she totes around. It’s Pong. Yes, the old-fashioned little black dot paddling between two vertical lines on a black screen. She likes it, she says. Something about the simplicity of Pong still strikes a nerve, even in the young.

Do people feel nostalgic for public libraries? I do, I admit it. Granted, there aren’t any public libraries in the Philippines to feel nostalgia for. But I remember what it was like to visit my local library on a regular basis, knapsack lugging all the week’s finished titles, ready to browse the stacks for new material. The very idea of a library  an expanse of books, waiting for selection  is classic enough, maybe even cool enough to make a comeback; but I also vividly recall the smell of books (granted, old, used books) with a kind of olfactory bliss. Maybe that’s because browsing the stacks was all tied up with a sense of discovery, something that is endangered by our current  and possible future  book-reading habits. You can’t smell a Kindle. Not really.

I do think we humans have a fondness for things handmade that will always outflank the new, the CGI-driven, the 3D-enhanced. These things keep coming back. Old-fashioned stop-motion animation (Wes Anderson’s recent Fantastic Mr. Fox comes to mind, or Nick Parks’ Wallace & Gromit) has a charm that comes from molding the incredible out of the inanimate. The thing that makes claymation work is the fact that human hands literally create the magic: it’s a hands-on process that directly transfers human emotion, much as fingers on a piano or guitar transmit whatever a player is feeling.

Speaking of animation, I was searching the malls for pipe cleaners one day, to provide the armature for some clay figures and maybe film a cartoon. Turns out pipe cleaners aren’t even sold anymore. Very few places where you can even score a pipe these days  except maybe in Amsterdam. Not sure if pipes will ever make a “cool” comeback; it depends on how attractive you find throat cancer.

Another proof that the old works as well, maybe better, than the new comes in the fact that people are taking up running again. Actually putting down the Wii control, waving goodbye to their avatars, slipping on their sneakers and running. They may also be discovering that the cool part about outdoor exercise isn’t the iPod soundtrack, it’s the fresh air, the sunshine, the thrill of dodging cars and buses and live, rabid dogs.

 I’ve noticed another strange trend among young people: many of them have stopped wearing wristwatches. Their time-telling needs are apparently met, by and large, by glancing at their cell phone displays. Or they ask a nearby fellow human what time it is. Granted, wristwatches were probably, once upon a time, considered radical novelties, a fad; those who wore them were probably thought to be effete “dandies.” No doubt wristwatches will come back in a big way soon  how else will people be able to extricate themselves from boring conversations if they can’t glance anxiouslyx at their wrists on occasion? But I’m actually holding out hopes that the pocket watch will also make a serious comeback. Nothing like accessorizing your pocket watch fob to make you feel properly retro. Preferably while smoking a pipe and listening to crackling vinyl.

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