Physical is Cool Again

I was talking to Tomas this morning, and he was telling me all about the “new” camera he got in Slovavkia. It’s actually an old Russian one from communism, completely manual (no batteries, etc.), and he’s a big fan. (Well, he will be once he gets the camera fixed. He just had his first roll of film developed, and it looks like there’s a hole somewhere inside it that’s letting light in on the pictures. All of his shots have this huge christmas tree-shaped splotch of white in the middle of them. He’s pretty sure he can fix it.)

But what he was really excited about was having actual honest to goodness pictures that he could hold and feel. Or at least, that’s how I’d understood it at first. As we talked more, I realized he took the film in to get developed, and they gave him back the negatives and then digital scans of the negative, so he still doesn’t actually have pictures he can hold in his hand. But he does have something that feels much more real to him.

Of course, when I was on my mission, all I had was a physical camera that took physical pictures, and since then, the trend has always been toward more technology, not less. When digital cameras arrived, it was so exciting that they didn’t need film. That I could take as many pictures as I wanted without having to worry about getting one wrong. I could see the results right away. Phone cameras have only made that more extreme, with people taking multiple shots of just about everything, simply because it’s so easy to delete the ones you don’t want. (Or don’t delete them at all, since digital storage is so cheap.)

Likewise, Daniela got an instant camera for Christmas. (Like a polaroid.) She was also thrilled with the idea of having tangible things instead of just purely digital. That’s right in line with other trends: LPs in music, fancy leather bound books, etc. More and more, it seems like people are acknowledging that yes, they could have something digital, but what they’d really like is something tangible, at least of the things they’re big fans of.

Brandon Sanderson has made a lot of money with this principle, issuing deluxe leather editions of his books 10 years after they’re published. And fans gobble them up. I’m surprised more authors aren’t doing it. Scratch that. I just googled it, and they are. I just hadn’t paid any attention to it. If people really love something, they want to show that love in a way that lasts.

In a way, this is nothing new. How many people would buy t-shirts at concerts or musicals or events, to prove they were there? To have something physical they could wear and show to others as a way of declaring what sort of a person they are. What music they like. Sure, you can like a page on Facebook, but who actually looks at those?

It’s interesting that for years, the assumption seemed to be people would keep moving toward digital, until all physical things were gone. Now, in a time when AI can begin to approximate many of the same things that humans could make, it makes sense that there will be a continued focus on the artists behind the art. On going to concerts. On interacting with them online. Taking actual pictures. Buying prints.

I do wonder if the disposable nature of many things will continue to decrease. Will we get to a point where most paperbacks just aren’t published, because people either want the deluxe leather versions of the books they love, or just the digital version so they can read it? Actually, I doubt it, simply because not everyone can afford deluxe leather versions. People will want a way to show what they’ve read. To connect with it in a way digital ones and zeroes can’t.

Food for thought . . .


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