WINNETKA, Ill. — The record player and the Polaroid camera, both antiquated technology, are making a comeback within my younger generation. These modernly useless machines have been embraced by “hipsters” and have assumed their own spot in a sort of new counterculture.
But what makes people willing to pay for such impractical things?
I have the most experience with the record player, having asked for one a couple of years ago for my 16th birthday. At first, my parents didn’t understand why I would want this bulky machine that would take up place in their basement. Why would I want to spend my money on the giant pieces of plastic they would have to find somewhere to store when I could have a nearly infinite music library on my computer through Spotify?
To answer this question I need to describe my first experience in a record store.
It was a hot summer day when my friend Zack and I walked down the streets of Evanston, Ill., to Vintage Vinyl on Davis Street. The cold metal door to the musty room creaked as I pulled hard to open it. In front of me lay a voluminous quantity of wooden crates packed with cardboard squares organized alphabetically. I walked down the aisles running my hand over the sanded wood, stopping to sort through the giant colored albums.
It was strange to see album artwork so large and to handle it physically. My heart leaped when I flipped through a crate and found a copy of Van Morrison’s “Moondance.” I grabbed the record, holding it firmly and wanting to ensure that it could really be mine.
Zack and I walked to the counter where a longhaired man peered over at us. The man was surprised that a 16-year-old would want to buy a Van Morrison record. He asked me if I knew about Morrison’s earlier work in his band Them. I did not. I walked home clutching the brown paper bag with my new record, gleeful, and with a new music recommendation too.
Zack and I had spent a day together searching for records. We had made it an event — driving to the store, getting food, walking around outside. In the process I had become closer to a friend, talked to someone new about something I’m passionate about, actually gotten out of my house and into the sunlight and learned something about the past.
In today’s world, a lot of this would be considered a waste of time. I could have avoided all of this “trouble” had I spent 10 seconds taking my phone out of my pocket, typing in the name of the album and pressing play.
I’m not writing this to try to get people to start collecting records, or to tell anyone to listen to Van Morrison. I’m trying to explain why some members of a younger generation are clinging to relics of the past.
The difference between my experience in the record store and the experience of opening an app on my phone is the presence of human interaction.
Day-to-day life can seem interaction-starved. Walk down a crowded high school hall and you’ll see faces angled downward at glowing screens. Our wired devices make it more efficient to communicate without ever actually talking to the people on the other end. Even learning can lack a human touch now with the “flipped classroom,” an idea pioneered by Kahn Academy that involves students learning outside of class by watching videos of teachers explaining things.
Those older gadgets — the record player and the Polaroid camera — force human interaction. Somebody needs to be present with you to view a physical Polaroid picture. You can’t simply send it to them electronically.
My generation’s obsession with the antiquated is a veiled longing for the warmth of human interaction in a world becoming colder and colder every day — a world where I can walk into a restaurant and order my meal on a touch screen without having to look another human in the eyes.
Automation and technology are improving efficiency by cutting out the personal and the friendly — and along the way leaving a generation starved for interaction.