Ode to The Bricks of Old: How Nostalgia Shapes Today’s Expectations

Ode to The Bricks of Old: How Nostalgia Shapes Today’s Expectations

We are now two weeks into the new year, and the hangovers should be long gone by now. At the end of the year, there’s a multitude of “best-ofs”, lists, reminiscing about the past, and passing predictions for the coming year. By now, that cloud of nostalgia should also be dispersing once more, so I think it’s time we took a look at how nostalgia affects the way we view today’s technology.

When the first mobile phones came out, simply the fact that it was cordless was enough to amaze. It cut the umbilical between the wall and the rest of the world. The race was on to squeeze that technology into a smaller and smaller size for ease of use. The first truly iconic phone (in my opinion) was the Nokia 3310. It came with Snake and several different noises when it rang! It also happened to have the structural integrity of a solid titanium brick.

Then came the colour screens. Polyphonic ringtones, MP3 capability, crude cameras, until the touchscreens started to become refined enough to replace the previous generations of tactile buttons and screens that did nothing more than show (in all honestly, rather limited) content. Flash forward just under a decade, and we’re now complaining about how the white-balance of the camera is completely off, the battery is atrocious and the OS is so laggy it’s obviously unusable. So what happened in between? First off, we’ve inevitably lost that sense of wonder that comes with new technology.

Exponential improvements can hardly be expected in every aspect, and whether you want to call the market stagnating or maturing, the fact remains that the smartphone market is not changing as rapidly today as it was in 2009. When we do lose the sense of wonder for what we currently have, we look back and reminisce over what came before. And when we look back, in many cases, the rose-tinted glasses ensure that we only remember the best of previous generations.


When I googled the Nokia 3310, among the suggested search phrases were “indestructible” and “unbreakable”, as well as a photoshopped picture taken during a riot in which a Nokia is being thrown instead of a stone… Less prominent in memory is how that particular phone had a call log limited to eight incoming, outgoing and missed calls, as that was all it could afford to store. Little praise is sung for its 84×48 pixel monochrome screen, or that the spec-sheet includes the line “clock:yes”. Instead, what does stick is, again, is how it really could take a punch, and that the battery would last seemingly forever.

Yet I rarely hear the people complaining about modern phones battery life set their phone to minimum brightness and uninstall every single application. Even if they did their current phone would still be several orders of magnitude more complicated. In exchange for comparatively flimsy phones, we have gained much more. I mean, I bet your grandma has even taken a photo using her phone, even if she then tried to fax it to you. Or, at least accidentally taken 6,000 pictures and asked you to find out why this useless thing won’t open the daily lottery pdf she has somehow figured out she needs… Hey, it’s your grandma, what do I know.

Today we see evolution, rather than revolution in the smartphone market. Sure, boundaries are still being pushed relentlessly, but it is centered around improving previous iterations. Comparing a phone today to those that came out 15 years ago almost makes no sense; close to the only similarity they would have is that we carry them in our pockets and that they occasionally make noises. Perhaps then we would benefit more from comparing today’s smartphones to earlier laptops, rather than cellphones. There’s plenty of older laptops still kicking around that are way behind the computational power and screen resolution of 2015 flagships, not to mention what’s to come in 2016.  

Nobody would find it too strange that a laptop can only crank out 4 hours of screen-on time of heavy usage.

 Nobody would find it too strange that a laptop can only crank out 4 hours of screen-on time of heavy usage. Screen breaking relatively easily isn’t odd when it’s a laptop. Actually, today’s smartphones are comparatively resilient. 

Of course, none of this means that everything is better now than it has ever been before; that’s not at all what I’m saying. There’s absolutely a case to be made that, considering the specs of flagships, there shouldn’t be any lag, and extremely poor utilization of the hardware isn’t excusable. However, when talking about what was good with previous generations compared to today, we need to remember what we’ve gained, and not only what’s been lost. Rarely are good aspects whittled down for no reason. Usually, there’s a good reason for the trade-offs and choices made and when it doesn’t happen, how much of our reaction is down to a cocktail of an aversion to change and nostalgia? We could all, myself included, benefit from taking a step when we find ourselves thinking “that was much better before”, and check the tint of our glasses.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!

Image credit: Phasemonkey

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