I recently had to explain what a MP3 player was to someone just a few years younger than me. I also had to explain what an MP3 was. Her music player was her phone; her music was “iTunes” or “Amazon.” This conversation made me realize that something as relatively recently widespread as MP3 players have kind of been passed by. And a lot of technology and trends have followed suit. This in my mind is “neo-retro”: items or fashions of very recent history that have briefly dominated a sector of the culture only to be replaced by the ever moving march of progress. Here were some of the ones that crossed my mind:
Netflix Disc Delivery: In 2006 I was given a free month of NetFlix from a friend at work. I was hooked on the service and soon signed up as a regular customer. Sold by the cheap monthly rate that would give me unlimited movie rentals for titles you couldn’t find anywhere else. The service sounded ridiculous. I get a disc in the mail? Then send it back and get another one? But after trying it I was able to watch seasons of TV shows and new-release movies in marathons. You became a master of scheduling; you could calculate when you’d watch a disc so you could have the next one by the weekend. I eventually upped my service to include Blu-Ray discs, and eventually added the streaming service, because it was free with my subscription, despite the paltry video library available digitally. Then a shift occurred. The digital library expanded. NetFlix upped their prices so the digital service was cheaper than disc delivery. I eventually cancelled the disc service and now watch everything on Netflix streaming. During a brief period about 2004-2010 to “Netflix a movie” or “Netflix a TV show” meant you got all the discs delivered and watched them in quick succession. Now no one uses it that way. To “Netflix” only refers to the digital service and while disc deliveries still exist the convenience and vast library available digitally has shifted the rental culture. I still remind people, however, that while Netflix (and later Amazon Prime) changed the way we get movies…it was the disc delivery service that spelled the end of the local video stores. Yes. It was that big. But it has come and gone as the prime mover in movie services.
Email and IM: Yes email still exists. Yes it’s widely used. BUT. There was a time when email was the preferred way to contact people. Now email has been relegated mostly to business/commercial purposes. I use it all the time at work, I use it for internet purchases, and I stay hooked in through email for bills, etc. I even get the occasional email from a friend containing a link or something specific. But is it the most common and popular way I connect with friends and family? Absolutely not. Even though it is available on most smart phones. Now even my friggin’ insurance company offers the choice “enter email address” or “connect via Facebook.” Really? Really? My insurance is good with using my Facebook profile as my main contact info!? Similarly AOL began the wide-spread use of Instant Messenger services. All through high school and college I used IM to connect with friends more than any other form of communication. With the proliferation of affordable cell phone plans, text messaging, and services like Skype the classic instant message has been sent to retro history. So much that the venerable AOL IM sound gets guffaws of retro laughter…..for those who remember it.
MySpace: MySpace is still recent enough and its decline so public it’s not as long-lost as the others on this list. Though it was preceded by other similar concepts, MySpace really started the entire popular social media concept. I had a MySpace page and honestly I still prefer the customizability and personalization capable in a MySpace page. You could set backgrounds…music…colors…all kinds of things. When Facebook started to take over the world MySpace slipped into decline, or rather it went back to what it was created for, advertising bands. But, briefly, MySpace bridged that gap between “here’s my email address, write me sometime” and “here’s my Facebook name, friend me” to dominate social interaction.
Trends move quickly. So quickly sometimes they have come and gone before you can even get used to them. “Retro” has become hipster cool, so having records and tapes is considered fashionable…while using any of the above “neo-retro” items is usually considered “lame” or out-of-date.
So the next time you decide to move all your contact info to Facebook or its inevitable successor…remember nothing stays on top forever. The big thing of today is tomorrow’s has-been!