There was once a future when everything would be digital

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Photo by Collins Lesulie

There was once a future when everything would be digital.

All the signs were there at the turn of the century.

Napster launched in 1999 and immediately took a slice of the music business. The launch of the iTunes Store and iPod in 2001 provided a simple way to legally purchase music, but record label revenues were still cratering as the sales of more profitable physical media – like CDs and vinyl – collapsed, sinking many record shops in the process.

Sales of photographic film began to steeply decline during the same period as digital cameras reached mass adoption. Kodak made a series of valiant attempts to stay relevant, but eventually declared bankruptcy, just as the Polaroid Corporation had done in 2001.

Sales of paper books looked likely to go the same way, especially when the Amazon Kindle launched in 2007.

The digital era had arrived and anything analogue looked certain to be consigned to an historical footnote.

Except, of course, this is not quite what happened.

As more of our lives were spent interacting with screens, many of us sought real world experiences with things – with atoms, not bits.

And so we have witnessed the vinyl revival and rebirth of the record shop. After years of decline, beautifully curated bookshops are re-opening. Many of these shops double as places to socialise and play host to regular events.

Even photographic film is enjoying a second life, with Fujifilm’s Instax brand of cameras enjoying strong sales. Brands like Moleskine and Field Notes are proving the enduring appeal of paper notebooks.

These are niche businesses when compared to the scale of digital media, but they are large enough to sustain many great brands and to bring pleasure to millions of people around the world.

“There was this assumption that the analog things that had been struggling against this technology would all of a sudden now completely disappear,” says David Sax, author of ‘The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter.’

“But what I started seeing, was that very shortly after that, those analog technologies started growing again in new and different ways because they acquired a new value. It wasn’t a default value of a legacy technology. It was almost as though they were a new technology that, compared with the ubiquity of digital technology, did something different and, in many cases, superior, or complementary.”

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