Star Wars is back in cinemas. Donald Trump’s eerily familiar views on religious persecution are proving alarmingly popular. Supermarkets are selling vinyl records. We’re just a fortnight from 2016 but you’d be forgiven for thinking that time is actually moving backwards. Only the recent news that Sony is finally discontinuing the Betamax tape is evidence that the clocks are indeed moving inexorably onwards, albeit slowly. The human instinct to cling onto the past and step off the merry-go-round of progress is understandable, particularly at this time of year, when we instinctively look back to old times… or as Rabbie Burns would put it, ‘auld lang syne’.
The Scientific American ran an article last month about the human tendency to cling onto old technology. The main drivers of this attachment – or barriers to progress, depending on your mindset – identified were pragmatism (old technologies can be perfectly serviceable and expensive to replace), aesthetics (think the hipster love of Polaroid or the vinyl snob’s rejection of digital music files) and ‘rescue technology’, to preserve and conserve old records and audiovisual files created in an earlier age.
The concept of ‘rescue technology’ is an interesting one –by detaching the safety rope and plunging headlong into tomorrow we worry that we might lose something important. Ed Sheeran’s decision to leave social media shows that even so-called ‘millennials’ worry that losing themselves in the world of screens and pixels may come at the cost of the real and authentic. But how long will the scruffy singing munchkin be able to resist the urge to share, to keep pace with accelerating technological change?
The urge to disconnect is touted, year after year, as a ‘major trend’ for the upcoming 12 months. Vinyl sales are up. Demand for allotments is up. Google is developing an artificial intelligence programme to answer emails for us. I’m inclined to look at this with cocked and sceptical eyebrow – I’ve seen it touted year after year but it’s yet to manifest in as anything more mainstream than a lomo-inspired Instagram filter. It’s not a wholesale cultural shift. But… we do keep talking about it, ‘cool hunters’ just can’t leave it alone and there must be a reason.
Our little monkey brains are, I suspect torn and confused. Or, if you’d prefer a less shit-flingy image, think of the two-faced Roman god, Janus. Always looking forward, always looking back. We don’t want to lose hold of the past, of our youth but we’re also mesmerised by novelty and seduced by the hyper-connected world and its digital illusion of human contact.
Nowhere is this more starkly laid bare than at family events like Christmas Day. By and large we seek to nurture important relationships with family and friends, power down work email for a few blessed days and celebrate togetherness. But how many of us will be sucked into our phones and tablets, ignoring the very human contact we claim to hold dear? This week I received a press release from Bing ads claiming that on Christmas Day last ear 400% more Brits than usual start shopping for bargains from 4pm. Really? Ugh, I think I feel the egg nog repeating on me. Shiny new stuff can wait, can’t it?
However long you’ve got to celebrate the holiday season and Hogmanay (oh alright, non-Scottish people, ‘New Year’s Eve’), I hope you’re able to give your phone a rest and enjoy an small oasis of time. You deserve it, you've worked hard this year. The future will come soon enough.