Is Retro the New New?

March 27, 2017

I have seen the future, and it looks a lot like the past.

A colleague and I recently returned from the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, where we joined our clients at Panasonic. They were there to début their Toughbook CF-33 12” 
2-in-1 fully rugged laptop, amongst other things, so it was always going to be a pretty exciting event for us.

But that was just the beginning. Elbowing our way through the vast crowds we saw all manner of fully connected cars, new ways to manage energy usage around the home, a self-driving car designed by the guy from the Tron movie… no, really… and definitive proof that the Internet of Things is finally a real thing, and coming to a refrigerator/car/toaster/running shoe/sandwich near you in the not-too-distant future.

OK, maybe not a sandwich, but you get my drift. The IoT may have been on everyone’s lips for a while, but it’s now very much a reality, and 2017 looks like being the year it really takes over the world.

So what else was there? Well, 5G is about to happen, and actually looks like it’s going to make 4G look like one of those direct dial modems that used to make a lot of funny noises before taking a day and a half to load a basic website on Internet Explorer.

While Artificial Intelligence still looks like it’s got a lot to learn, Virtual Reality was also there to make real reality seem a tad lacklustre, with the latest Oculus Rift VR headsets providing a mind-blowingly immersive experience.

In fact, there was so much amazing tech on display that it’s hard to say what the most exciting and revolutionary idea really was. No, hang on, that isn’t true. The real show stopper for a lot of people? A mobile phone from the year 2000.

Presenting the Nokia 3310. Definitive proof that retro is the new new.

Yes, to paraphrase the immortal words of Busted, before the one with the big eyebrows left to do grunge metal: “I’ve been to the year 3000, and, well, not much has changed, really.”

That’s because, despite the futuristic wonders on show at the Mobile World Congress, the star of the show was the revamped and reborn Nokia 3310, a mobile phone that is designed to make phone calls and… well… not much else.

The original was a bit of an icon in its day, to be honest, with a reputation for call quality, battery life and all-round ruggedness that made it the phone of choice for most of us that need to be available around the clock for business purposes.

So, I must admit that I picked up the new phone with some trepidation: after all, you don’t really want to meet your heroes 20 years after their star has faded, do you? They’re always a lot fatter and heavier than in their heyday, and whatever power they once held to entertain has long gone.

However, I’m glad to report that the same can’t be said for the Nokia 3310. It’s slimmer and lighter than it was in the noughties, even though it now packs a colour screen, a camera and Internet connectivity. That’s pretty much all that’s changed though. It won’t connect to Wi-Fi and has no interest in your Facebook friends, or loading up on Apps. And the only game it can play is the wonderfully pointless yet highly addictive ‘Snake.’

Best of all, it doesn’t need charging every day like your iPhone. Or even fortnightly like the noughties original. No, ladies and gentlemen, the new Nokia 3310 will need charging just once a month, according to the manufacturer’s blurb.

Is Tech Now Exceeding the Reach Of The Human Mind?

Here I am, Creative Director of a high-tech B2B agency, and I’m honestly asking myself the same question that parents of teenaged children have been asking them for a decade: “Why are you always glued to that stupid phone?”

In fact, it seems inescapable to me that humanity has now reached a tipping point in our relationship with technology: which is neatly encapsulated by the furore surrounding the return of the Nokia 3310.

In a nutshell, it’s just a phone; designed to facilitate conversations between people. Sure, phone technology has gone far beyond that, but I’m genuinely looking at the 3310 in humanistic terms and thinking that it’s superior to any smartphone.

Similarly, the Apple Watch is dying a slow death, because it gives people far more options and information than they really want on their wrist – and requires another, separate device to make it work properly.

And, as my colleague Mike Cain has pointed out in these pages, even vinyl albums are making a comeback, despite being hugely more expensive and unfeasibly less convenient than the CDs and MP3s that replaced them.

The thing is, I really don’t think that this urge for all things retro is a passing phase that we’ll all laugh about one day. I genuinely believe that it could be the start of the backlash that makes us all put tech in its place: which is behind the basic human need for relaxation and interaction with others and with ‘things’, for want of a better word.

So by all means give me an amazing smartphone and an indestructible laptop when I’m away on business; but when I’m back home, just leave a message on my Nokia if you would: I’ll be upstairs listening to my crackly, old 45s. And loving it.

Phil Robinson - Creative Director & Head of Copy