Consumer culture and pre-digital objects

Contemporary culture is saturated in nostalgia.[1] From the popularity of Secret Cinema’s Back To The Future series to the craze in tinting colour images to look like old photographs via Instagram it is clear the revisiting and re-activating of our past is defining new media culture. [2]  This reanimating of past footage, texts and music can also be viewed in a wide range of formats including hit US TV show Mad Men, cult literary fiction such as Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves (2000) or Steven Hall’s The Raw Shark Texts (2007), and the comic books of leading contemporary graphic novelist Chris Ware. Equally, fashion trends such as the parading of 1980s Walkman style Dr. Dre headphones, the aesthetic influence of defunct computer brands such as Spectrum, Atari and Amstrad on current computer gaming and the re-birth of vinyl can be spotted and understood next to a 21st Century cultural interest in the physicality of pre-digital objects: examples including record players, typewriters, tape cassette recorders, VHS players and Fax machines.

Yet why exactly is there a growing 21st Century cultural interest in the physical materiality of pre-digital objects?  One answer is that consumer culture is witnessing the gradual extinction of pre-digital objects. Previous high functioning and era defining objects of technology such as Kodak film, VHS and CDs are being phased out. We are crossing between two worlds: pre-digital and digital. By watching our past gradually become non-operational are we in fact, experiencing a collective depression?  Is our increasing over-dependence on new digital technologies creating its own sense of isolation thus exaggerating an aesthetic of nostalgia for the past? And is the dichotomy of chasing the new and on the other hand fetishizing the past defining an inner conflict within 21st Century culture?

[1] The word nostalgia derives from the two combined Greek words nostos meaning ‘return home’ and algos meaning ‘pain’. The Oxford Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991)

[2] Secret Cinema produce themed audience participation events based on late 20th Century cult movies.



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