Monday 1 December 2014

The strange re-emergence of vinyl records, and so on

I don't like to brag (well, I don't get the opportunity very often).  But I read the report in the Guardian last week with some satisfaction, explaining that the annual sale of vinyl records had reached a 18-year high - up to a million.

It is now 11 years since my book Authenticity came out.  I was fascinated by the re-emergence of so many of those elements of modern life which were supposed to have been consigned to the dustbin of technology - radio, bricks, bicycles, trams, natural fibres, bread-making (most real food was supposed to be too inconvenient; remember the Smash advert robots?).

This element I borrowed partly from the French medievalist Jean Gimpel in his book The End of the Future, which predicted this first.  I like to think I made the argument a bit more forward-looking.  This is what I wrote back then:

"At the same time, we have also seen the emergence of an articulate but growing minority of the population who are rejecting the idea that the unstoppable march of progress meant a fake, second-rate world and are demanding something authentic – real human contact, real experience, real connection. They don’t just want authenticity – this is no puritanical return: they want to enjoy getting drunk occasionally, they want fast food when it’s convenient, and they certainly want to use the internet. But they don’t want that to be their only choice. They want something authentic to go back to."

Well, they seem to be going back to it.  But I was fascinated to see this quotation in the Guardian's report, from Stephen Godfroy from record chain Rough Trade:

“While the digital download is instantaneous and portable, the vinyl has a sensory quality. I think we are moving into a post-digital age where people do value something that is real – there is a value in its ownership, it is not just a piece of binary code on a mobile phone.”

This remains controversial.  Most commentators would accept that it is true, but they fall out about what it might mean.  But people certainly value what is real.  You can see it in virtually every area of life - it even explains the particularly fraught relationship between voters and the big political parties.  I think they may value authenticity increasingly...

Unfortunately, copies of Authenticity now seem to be virtually unobtainable.  But I've updated my argument in my ebook The Age to Come.

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David said...

I do hope the irony of updating your views on Authenticity via the medium of an ebook is not lost on you!

I like your work.

David Boyle said...

Haha, yes - it was lost on me in a moment of self-obsession!

Though I am trying to claim that I'm not against new technologies, just the kind of arrogance that assumes everything is changing when it isn't!