I recently stumbled across something online that warmed the cockles of my heart, and sent me tumbling back to my childhood. You may have seen it already; it has been doing the rounds for years now, but has had a recent resurgence thanks to Twitter. I am referring to this perfectly copied Argos catalogue from 1985.
I spent a happy hour flicking through this wonderful memento, reminiscing over all the trinkets from my past. I should admit that in 1985 I was still a very small child, but being the youngest of four meant that I was exposed to a great deal of the then cutting-edge technology. As my sisters and brother went through their demanding teenage years, I found myself surrounded by compact cameras that used discs of film instead of reels, record players with tape decks that allowed you to copy music (before it was frowned upon), and, perhaps most memorably, an electric typewriter that could magically delete words already typed. This was a year in which you could purchase a Commodore 64, with 16 colour 320x200 display, and a 14" colour monitor to show it off on, all for just £408.95. Oh what an age we lived in.
All of this tripping down memory lane had me wondering: if my generation will get misty eyed over 16" television sets and revolutionary auto-tuning car stereos, then what will the next generation be getting nostalgic about in another 25 years?
Looking at current trends, it seems that human / technology interfaces are going to be dramatically different in the near future. Already in the past five years we have seen the transition from buttons to stylus to touchscreen to voice control, not to mention the addition of motion control to our everyday lives. I can well believe that by 2035, people will be chuckling over old fashioned 2D videos of themselves using a mouse to operate a computer. Voice control and eye-tracking software will likely be flawless, so the current frustrations with such technology will be fondly remembered.
Media, in the classic sense, will almost certainly be a thing of the past in the next 25 years. Recent trends in ebooks, digitally downloaded videogames, and streaming video services have conclusively shown that the public largely want to do away with the inconvenience of needing to own physical forms of entertainment. Some industries might be talking about the next type of high density storage disk, but largely the world is going digital. I fully expect that children born today, as teenagers, will not be able to identify a DVD or know what to do with a games cartridge. Any explanation of the capacities of these media will be met with the same derision that pulling out a 5.25" floppy disk elicits from me.
In the world of display technology, I expect to see the same trends continuing that we see now. Resolutions will continue to improve, screens will become flatter and more flexible, and 3D will come and go. One thing I don't expect to change too much is the size of screen that we view. I personally find the 50" plasma at home to be more than adequate to my needs, and frankly, anything larger would be painful to watch in the living room. It is the obtrusiveness of screens that will see the biggest change, and in the near future I can well imagine dedicated, standalone televisions and monitors being viewed as beguiling, cherished, antiques.
I suppose an equally fundamental question is exactly how future generations will be getting hold of this glimpse into the past. After all, for me to have this pleasure it took some dedicated individual hours of careful dismantling and scanning of a physical catalogue. Our children won't need anything like this amount of physical effort to see objects from today. So much of the world is already captured digitally; both in terms of the equivalent online version of the Argos catalogue, and people's own lives uploaded and shared forever on Facebook and YouTube.
But then perhaps this is a key factor in the experience of nostalgic feelings, and without that extra effort, it won't be so meaningful. When, in 25 years, someone only has to voice a request to see that cherished childhood object, complete with accompanying video and an option to send it to the 3D printer queue, will they get that same feeling that I have when I see a picture of a Lights-Alive?