In a recent Perspective piece, we wrote about the fact that we’re heading into what you might call The Great Log Off: we’re setting aside the omnipresent technologies from the past year and stepping out IRL. Well, fact check, we didn’t totally log off, and I currently have a couple of unread Slack notifications to attend to. But there is a palpable sense that we’re all putting a greater emphasis on IRL, or at least working towards finding a renewed balance after a digitally-saturated year. Here’s to an embrace of lo-fi gadgets and slower methods of communication.
“A New Update is Available”
There are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and software updates, and of these three, it’s the last that are maybe the most insidious. A new OS here, a new gaming system there: software updates, it seems, never ever end. New screens, new apps, new kicks that you can’t even wear IRL. Sure, it almost goes without saying that technological innovation can be a good thing.It took us to the moon. It brought us three life-saving vaccines. It gifted us Charlie Bit My Finger and, of course, its subsequent NFT. It gave us Theranos, billionaire vanity trips to space, the TikTok algorithm, and OnlyFans! See! Technology is a good thing, until it’s not.
Recently, we've found that sometimes we want to chuck our computer against a wall and communicate via messenger pigeon or stone tablets for a week. We live in a content-dense era where virality is driven by how much style-tips, dance moves, jokes, ASMR (the list goes on), can be jammed into a 6 second video. After a year glued to screens, I just want to pick up a magazine, struggle to create a perfect crease when turning the page in a newspaper, and listen to music on a walk-man. It seems like there’s a growing cohort of people looking to do the same: find a way to unplug from the relentless drive of modern tech, even if only for a few minutes.
With hyper-fast, content-dense tech filling our eyeballs every day, it's maybe no surprise that lower-tech trends are catching on. Let’s face it, the nature of tech today sometimes feels like the modern day equivalent of watching Charlie Chaplin in a factory, trying to keep up with a conveyor belt that’s accelerating at a rapid pace. It’s no surprise then, that people wait in line for a printed copy of The Drunken Canal that they won’t even get their hands on, why vinyl sales are soaring, brands are ditching grid posts for zines, “Bistro Vibes” are in and Gen Zers are clamoring for book recommendations on TikTok — excuse me, “BookTok.”
Brands are tapping into this as well. Will they all throw away their digital presences? No, of course not. But don’t be surprised if there’s a resurgence in print and physical media. Luxury brand Loewe, in cancelling their Autumn/Winter 2021 fashion show, also opted to nix planned social activations as well. Instead, creative director Jonathan Anderson premiered the collection in a newspaper attached within Le Monde and The New York Times on the day of the would-be Paris show: “coming directly to you in your everyday life and ideally enjoyed with a morning cup of coffee,” Anderson said. He added that “[t]he idea that we are going to consume ourselves with… a digital reality is not a long-term solution.”
And while gamers are definitely not logging off anytime soon, some are logging back in time. Upcoming hand-held systems like the crank-operated Playdate and Nintendo’s retro-inspired The Legend of Zelda Game & Watch deliver curated selections of low-fi games, while indie PC game Emily Is Away <3 returns players to a mid-00s social media UI to navigate the awkward dynamics of online friendship. Speaking of the early aughts, YouTuber Guy Dupont evenmodded his OG iPod Shuffleto stream from Spotify. The runway’s open for brands to get involved; #client Chipotle released its Race to Rewards arcade-style game last month (admittedly chipping a bit into our productivity—but hey it turns out that a video game marrying fast food and fast cars was super addictive.)
In the Moment
Millennials and Gen-Zers alike are also experimenting with devices that allow them greater control over their screen-time and social platforms that promise greater personalization, closer community and more meaningful connections as ways of counteracting information overload.
Social live-streaming app Yubo places users in topic-focused rooms, similarly to Clubhouse. Muze creates an open canvas out of its messaging interface, allowing users to draw, meme and collage their way through conversations. The newly relaunched #client Motorola razr allows users to decide which notifications appear on the smart phone's outer interface, which might appeal to next-gen users who are more wary of constant connectivity.
Maybe we all need to slow down a bit, catch our breath. Will we be installing rotary phones in the office and sending our newsletters via snail mail? No, there will inevitably be more screen time in our future, that’s just a baked-in reality. But in the era of virtually unlimited content, Gen Alphas glued to iPad screens and the never-ending tech update cycle, our media diet could use a diet.
Today’s media ecosystem can feel fleeting – even exhausting to keep up with sometimes. And this content overload and unabated screen time also means that many are seeking out slower, more analog content, where direct emotional experiences can be forged. If brands want to meaningfully connect with their audiences, they should take into consideration that people aren’t always yearning for a constant barrage of likes, clicks and re-shares. They don’t need the fastest, the loudest, the most viral. Sometimes, they just want tech to take the backseat. And who knows, that might even be where the next stage of innovative content lies.