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Retro tech channels old-school cool

  • Story Highlights
  • A good example of retro tech is vinyl records, observers say.
  • Percentage of music sales for vinyl actually increased in the past few years.
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By Jim Kavanagh
CNN
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(CNN) -- The latest technology is cool, but sometimes it's hip to be square. For every advance in technology, there seems to be a corresponding reach back to an earlier era.

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Melisa Correia, 10, is reflected in a screen as she plays Space Invaders at a 2006 exhibit of video games in London.

People are buying old-school video games like "Centipede" and "Space Invaders," '70s-style Polaroid cameras and old-fangled vinyl records played on turntables.

Reinier Evers, the Netherlands-based founder of trendwatching.com, is reluctant to call the phenomenon a trend.

"All generations will at [some] point in time have their 'nostalgia' moments, temporarily rejecting the new, even though they often can't live without the new anymore," he said via e-mail from Tokyo, Japan.

"None of the generations for whom the 'new' is the only thing they know ever lust after these older gadgets," he said. "Ever met anyone who gave up their CD player, their cell phone, their online access for more than a day?"

Perhaps not, but author and fellow trend observer Sally Horchow says the old and the new are not mutually exclusive.

"People are finding that while the Internet, e-mail, messaging, etc. help bring people together -- you communicate with a lot more people than you would have before -- a lot of people are doing that to the exclusion of real, face-to-face interaction and real, meaningful communication," she said. "So things like letter-writing and even phone calls, which are sometimes somewhat obsolete at this point, are becoming a kind of throwback but are used because they are more personal."

She noted with amusement that people use e-mail to make appointments to chat on the phone.

"Getting together in person is so retro," she said with a laugh. "Meeting for coffee is retro chic."

Horchow -- who with her father, Roger Horchow, wrote "The Art of Friendship: 70 Simple Rules for Making Meaningful Connections" (St. Martin's Press) -- disagrees with Evers' dismissal of the phenomenon as mere nostalgia.

"If someone is young and wasn't around when 'Pac-Man' was played, then it isn't nostalgia," she said. "They're just embracing it because it's cool and different."

She'll get no argument from Dave Ignizio, who owns Square Records, a vinyl-record shop in the hip Highland Square district of Akron, Ohio.

"We get a lot of younger kids that come in here and buy the older records, get a lot of classic rock and stuff," he said. "It's an affordable way for them to build up a good library of the standard rock records."

Ignizio describes 15-year-olds coming to his shop and "walking out with a big stack of vinyl for the price of three CDs."

According to the Recording Industry Association of America, vinyl LP sales grew slightly as a percentage of music sales from 2000 to 2006 even as overall music sales dropped to $12 billion from $14 billion.

And it's not just the classics. Such hip-hop heavyweights as Jay-Z, Linkin Park and Nas are pushing out new vinyl at a record clip, so to speak.

Independent labels producing punk, metal and other "outsider" music prefer the vinyl format as a kind of rebellion, Ignizio said. Fans of those genres defiantly tell the world, "We're just still gonna buy records, I don't care what everyone else is doing," he said.

And then there are the snobs and collectors who frequent Scott Neuman's shop at forevervinyl.com.

"There is still a contingent out there that feels that vinyl sounds better, that analog is better than digital," Neuman said.

And they're willing to put their money where their tastes are. One of his site's sponsors advertises a laser turntable "that will get every little nuance out of an analog record that's out there," he said.

Neuman doesn't own one, though. "Just don't want to spend $12,000 for a turntable."

There's a certain cachet to being an analog soul in a digital world, Horchow said.

"There's a sense of old-school kind of charm and etiquette about deciding that you're going to be somebody who hand-writes letters to people in the same way that if you're a person who listens to record albums there's a kind of respect as a music aficionado because of your grasp of the classic. There's something about respect gained for recognizing all these things that are retro."

And, she said, it's just cool not to follow the herd.

"Stuff you can't get anywhere, you can't get anymore, has always been in," she said.

"Doing or having things that other people don't have -- whether it's something personalized or something that is customized or not available anymore, obsolete -- is always the uber-cool that there is." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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