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Why is Gen Z so obsessed with old technology?

From iPods to digital cameras, members of Generation Z are giving new life to old tech, even though better products are out.
Posted at 8:50 PM, Apr 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-13 20:50:38-04

The saying goes, "Everything old is new again." It's evident from film to fashion to reboots these days.

But like low-rise jeans were innovations of their era, another surprisingly popular trend involves bringing back technology way past its time.

Things like iPods, camcorders and point-and-shoot digital cameras have gone from forgotten relics to essential lifestyle accessories. Videos related to the term "digital camera" have over 2 billion combined views on TikTok, with today's teenagers chasing and trading tips on how to capture the early-2000s vibe.

And it doesn't hurt that some of the biggest names in 2023 were also captured living through those eras, too.

Creative director Quentin Ventura has seen the old tech resurgence firsthand. Going by "Bruh With The Camcorder" on Instagram, he's gotten an influx of demand from businesses who want to work with him to get that old-school look.

"They're wanting to kind of highlight, you know, the nostalgia that they might represent," he said. "Like maybe it's a clothing line, and a vintage clothing brand wants to go ahead and showcase that. We're reminiscent of 90s, Y2K era."

The 28-year-old is just old enough to have a couple big early life events on tape, and in an era when so many memories are dependent on a site or a cloud staying up, he says there's something special about having a physical record of a memory. 

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"There's been a real groundswell of support and the ticket sales have been spectacular."

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"Anybody can create things with your iPhone and all these other different devices, but I feel like when you really have a cassette or a tape that you can play back and be like, 'Hey look, this is true to that time,'" Ventura said. "It's just a little bit more memorable."

Gen Z adopting some technology from before they were born isn't the first time this phenomenon has happened. Just look at millennials with their vinyl record collections.

"The attraction of retro technologies is not new," said Tim Gorichanaz, assistant teaching professor of information science at Drexel University. "We're hearing about it with Gen Z because they're sort of the coming-of-age group right now."

Gorichanaz focuses his work on the meaning humans give to technology. He says it's a lot more about people than the technology itself, pointing to examples as far back as the anti-technology Luddites in mid-19th century Britain. He says they rebelled against technology that threatened a way of life they felt was valuable, which is a pretty universal feeling.

"On one hand, there could be a resistance to changing technology in order to protect your sense of meaning," Gorichanaz said. "On the other hand, they could be consciously adopting particular technologies."

The conscious adoption of older technology is what we're seeing with Gen Z, and Gorichanaz points to the meaning that people give to camera quality.

"Gen Z looking at older camera qualities, they're sort of reacting against some of that smoothness and efficiency and slickness," Gorichanaz said. "Some are going to film, at least, and older film technologies, but most of them are settling on this, like, birth of the digital."

In addition to the potential to have more permanent technology, Gorichanaz also says it's the idea that crisper and smoother isn't always better, which is especially relevant to a generation that values how unpolished posts can feel more distinct and authentic. 

"Some of the things that we're seeing Gen Z play with is what were previously thought of as aberrations, like these technical glitches or artifacts of how the image was compressed, or because the shutter was too slow and you see the the kind of shaky light stuff," Gorichanaz said. "So that can kind of create a certain vibe or a certain effect that becomes more of an art rather than sort of an objective document of what things looked like. It's more about the feeling that it expresses."