In fashion and home décor, we often see that what is old is new again, but this is not a concept that typically carries over into the field of technology. Except that now, for the first time in history, the age range that goes in for nostalgia purchases (around 30-50 years old) is comprised of a group that was raised on technology-based toys, games, and entertainment. I had an inkling that the nostalgia trend had come to technology this past Christmas, when my sister informed me that the one can’t-live-without toy on my niece’s list was a Lite Brite. While the new LED flat-screen version does not resemble the boxy monstrosity I recall from the 1970s, the concept is the same—place black paper over the screen and plug away with colorful pegs to make a design or picture. I should have seen this coming since the same niece had asked for a Deluxe Spirograph the year before; not technology, but a retro STEM toy. The trend has continued into other areas that have advanced a lot in terms of technology over the past 30 years and I will highlight three of these old is new again comebacks.

Another item that had made a comeback and I was made aware of by my niece is the instant camera. Most of us remember encountering a Polaroid 600 instant film camera at some point in our lives, whether it be strapped around the neck of Grandpa Shutterfly or at a mall kiosk with a tired looking Santa posing for endless childhood keepsakes. Today it is no surprise that Polaroid leads the market in digital instant cameras, but the newly revived field also sports entries from Fujifilm and traditional film powerhouse Leica. Much like their vintage predecessors (some of which can command a nifty price in the hundreds on eBay), the camera requires a film pack to be inserted in the unit and the picture will be printed right from the camera using that film. An alternative model comes with a mini printer that the camera sends the photo to either via USB or Bluetooth. Unlike the instant cameras of days gone by, the new digital models also incorporate a lot of features you would see in a modern point and shoot camera, such as preset scene modes, in-camera photo cropping or editing, and the ability to manually adjust settings. It sure is a far cry from the literally point and shoot (and nothing else) operation of the originals from the 1970s and 1980s.

Next up, we have the return of vinyl records and the turntables to play them on. The reasoning behind this comeback is fairly simple: There are many audiophiles out there who prefer the sound of a vinyl recording and, according to an explanation provided on How Stuff Works, they have a valid point. Sound is analog and typically is recorded in analog. Digital conversion samples that sound and boils it down, which means it can cut out parts of the sound. Most of us will not notice this change, but more sophisticated listeners will pick up on it, especially if the music is complex, like symphony. The modern turntable still works the same way as older models, using a needle to playback the etchings on a vinyl-pressed record. That does not mean, however, that the technology has not evolved. Turntable Lab has a guide for beginners that goes over how to set-up a turntable and highlights some of these newer options. Included are tips on how to connect directly to a speaker and how to, if you so wish, digitize your vinyl by connecting the turntable to a computer. The latter shows that sometime old is new again out of need, not wanting to repurchase a large music collection or wanting to digitize rare or out of print vinyl.

Finally, we come to video games. While we have come a long way from Pong to the current crop of Xbox and Playstation offerings with virtual reality goggles and online interactive play, there is still a market for the classics. This past holiday season, one of the hottest items for many adults was the Nintendo NES Classic Edition, which sold out fast and stores still have not been able to keep them in stock. The console comes pre-loaded with 30 games that trip down memory lane for fans of Donkey King, Mario Bros., Zelda, Kirby, and Pac-Man. Fans of the other systems that were attached to TVs of the late 1970s-1990s can also relive their gaming glory with the Flashback Series produced by ATGames. Atari, Sega, and Coleco-themed consoles are produced, as well as hand-held versions. All the consoles are like the NES Classic and come preloaded with games and ready to connect to your nearest TV. If you do have to share space with a modern console and cannot figure out where to put a retro version, have no fear, as the games themselves are also typically available as a bundle available on DVD or via download for the Xbox or Playstation. There are even retro controls available if you want to put the motion controllers aside and kick-it old school with a one-button joystick or even a paddle.

—Laura N.


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