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There appears to be a respite from the tyranny of virtual reality in that objects, not their digitized avatars, are being sought by people. And not just people but young people.
First, the notebook is back. By notebook I mean the sheets of paper, lined, ring-bound or otherwise, for one to scribble in, not the laptop device that comes in different screen sizes and capacities. Among the urban and the savvy, it’s become trendy to possess and display a Moleskine or a Rhodia as a personal effect. The former brand has its own stores opened in high-end malls everywhere.
Reading materials get real again, too. E-book sales have plateaued but major newspapers and magazines like The New York Times and The Economist are seeing hikes in sales and in print subscriptions (and from young people, too). David Sax, author of The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter, attributes the comeback of the-paper-in-hand to the frustration of a web reader of never seeming to come to the last page or be able to put down the book. There is always further but not necessarily better information one click away. He also refers to the booming sales of vinyl records and the resurgence of board games, two pastimes that were once thought to be pushed to the verge of extinction with the emergence of iTunes and computer games, respectively.
Another relic from a previous era that is given a new lease of life is the letter. Yes, the letter we used to write, stamp and post, then expect to receive a reply, if prompt, in a matter of days or weeks before we are enslaved by e-mails.
Online platforms such as ‘Letters of Note’ and ‘The Letters Page’, which started out as archives of real letters or blogs by epistolary aficionados, saw the appeal of the letter as artefact and began putting their collections in the market in print form. ‘Letters of Note’ has already published two volumes of their collection, while the limited edition published by ‘The Letters Page’ comes in a boxed set containing loose-leaf reproduction of the original letters tied with strings that resemble the border strip of an airmail envelope.
Make no mistake. Family under the same roof and couples at the same restaurant tables would still text each other. But when carrying a smart phone is only as smart as carrying an Octopus card, getting one's hand on something tangible and concrete and actually doing something with it is an acquired taste and a badge of distinction.
This article was originally published in No. 494, Newsletter in Mar 2017.