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Old Is New? Tangible Vs. Virtual

Old Is New? Tangible Vs. Virtual
technology
Dan Gould
  • 21 july 2008

We’re usually looking forward to find innovation. What’s the next big thing? What’s coming next? Future! At times though, looking backwards might provide a richer source of inspiration. Overlooked ideas lay in wait to be revived. Simple practices long forgotten may be the answer to a present problem. There’s also the cyclically recurring retrofitting of culture, most obvious in the fashion world. Iconography of an earlier age is appropriated and remixed into a hybrid form using past style values to make a statement.

In one example of looking back for what’s next, Tom Davenport at Harvard Business Publishing noticed that postcard sales in the UK have increased by 30% since 2003. This got him thinking that maybe people are looking for a return to more tangible things in their life, in opposition to the increasing digitalization and etherealization of physical culture.

Tom’s thoughts:

I read a little piece in the New York Times yesterday that postcards are staging a comeback, at least in the UK. 135 million were sent last year to British households—30% more than in 2003. The Times suggests that the rise in postcards is a sign of a “yearning for tangibility.” Postcards are clearly more tangible than emails, and they fill up our mailboxes nicely without requiring a lot of verbiage. Jay Dittman, a smart fellow from Hallmark, told me recently that their paper greeting card business is also holding up pretty well.

That got me to wondering whether we would see other yearnings for the past, and whether the next big thing in business can ever involve the past. There seems to be a slight rise in wishing for a less digital past; and several articles and books on that topic, including Nick Carr’s piece in The Atlantic (about which I blogged a few weeks ago), and Maggie Jackson’s book Distracted, are pretty popular. I wonder how far it will go.

Harvard Business Publishing: “Can “The New New Thing” Be Something Old?”

[photo credit: mbgrigby]

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