My niece was very clear what she wanted for her 16th birthday-an Instax instant camera, one that she could use to print physical photos instantly. So I bought it for her for about six thousand rupees. When I asked her why she wanted one, she said it was because she could finally hold a photo in her hand and stick it in her album. Here was a young girl born and raised in an age where everything is digital; she had a camera phone at the age of 11, yet all she wanted was a camera that could print physical photos!
Earlier in the year, I gave my septuagenarian aunt a Carvaan bluetooth speaker with pre-recorded Hindi numbers. Now every time we talk, she tells me how it reminds her of her childhood. Again, the appeal here is the form factor: the Carvaan is built to look like the transistor radio of the ’70s with a large round dial. It has gone on to become a bestseller, turning around the fortunes of its parent company, Saregama.
There’s a pattern emerging here, a resurgence of all things physical. Today, when pretty much everything can be done on the telephone-from ordering food to watching a movie to finding a girlfriend-without ever having to meet or speak with anyone, people are craving for real things and real experiences. Curiously, when people are looking to spend on physical or analog products, they don’t mind paying a premium on a well-made ‘luxury’ product. After all, what’s driving them is not a need but a certain desire, the desire to touch, feel and have real-world experiences as against a sanitised, digital one.
When you look around, you see this phenomenon unfolding all around you. I am part of a WhatsApp group in my apartment block whose members regularly meet to play board games. They go to a board game café once a month and spend an entire Saturday afternoon playing a new board game. “We chat, we fight, we laugh, each session brings out the human emotions in all of us. There’s never going to be a virtual or online game that will be a good enough substitute,” says a long-time board game aficionado.
A cursory search online for LP (short for long-playing) records and turn-tables reveals a thriving industry. The LP is an analog sound storage medium where music is recorded and played on a vinyl disc, typically of 10-inch diameter. While each LP record can cost you anywhere from Rs 500 to Rs 3,000 (for rare ones), the turn-table itself can set you back by a few lakhs if you are looking for a high-end one. So, in an age where music is all but free on the internet, LP records have caught the fancy of this generation where people are choosing to go analog and spending lakhs to have a good record collection. How does one explain this?
The next time you walk into an office, pay attention to what sits at the work desks. There is the ubiquitous laptop but, invariably, also a paper notebook. Whether it is the millennial at her first job or the seasoned corporate warrior, they are using some sort of notebook. As the world goes more digital, the use of paper has shrunk in many areas. But its allure and charm have grown in other ways as it offers an analog alternative to our largely digital life. David Sax, in his book The Revenge of Analog, says, ‘When it comes to the free flow of ideas, a pen is mightier than the mobile or the keyboard.’ Nothing tells the story better than the rise of the well-known brand of notebooks, Moleskine. Interestingly, Moleskine grew in the face of digital competition. In India, a Moleskine blank notebook sells for more than Chetan Bhagat’s best-selling novel. Today, the company is valued at more than a billion euros. Ask any stationer today, he will confirm that notebook sales are on the rise. Need more proof? Look up ‘Bullet Journaling’ online. You will find that #Bulletjournal or #BuJo has been used more than 7 million times on Instagram! Bullet Journaling is a method of maintaining a journal invented a couple of years ago by Ryder Carroll. His method has caught the fancy of youngsters largely because it offers a distraction-free (read phone-free) method to plan one’s life. Many notebook brands, such as Leuchtturm1917 and Quikrite by Pennline, have grown thanks to Bullet Journaling.
We at William Penn conducted an activity called ‘Write a Letter, Say it Better!’ at the Mumbai airport where we invited departing passengers to write a hand-written letter to their loved ones. Over three days, more than a 100 people participated in this activity; in fact, it generated so much excitement that people even took to social media to express their gratitude. Two passengers even wrote to thank me personally for organising the event.
People today are acutely aware of how much time they spend on the screen and how it is affecting relationships and lives. It is this awareness and an overdose of digital devices that is driving people towards non-digital goods, services and experiences. What people are in search of is a balance-between the convenience of digital and the feel-good of analog, much like yin and yang. And in this search, money doesn’t always matter.
-The writer, Nikhil Ranjan, is managing director at William Penn.