What does excitement around the new 3310 tell us about our relationship with technology?
There was once a time when a smoothly-gliding stereo CD tray would elicit rapturous, multiple orgasms from any crowd that might have gathered in their local Curry’s. All this new digital technology was smooth and sexy, and so its analogue aspects had to reflect this.
Nearly twenty years on from its original release, one classic of this age returning to market: Nokia’s iconic 3310 has been talked about for years and now it’s been confirmed. Even in 2000 it didn’t have the slickness of a B&O stereo, it was more of a blunt tool; which is why it can do this.
On the surface the 3310 perfectly fits the role of an antidote to dominant themes in the current phone market: it doesn’t smash when you drop it, it has a very good battery (something Apple has now started to address) and it’s not overloaded with features that manufacturers are keen to push; even if most people haven’t asked for them.
These are all clear functional benefits*, but the return of the ‘dumb phone’ actually taps into a broader trend in our relationship with technology and mobile.
Digital detox hasn’t worked for us, but perhaps digital rewind will?
Firstly, concerns over privacy and data are still very top of mind for people. Email leaks and webcam hacking in the news ensure this a concern, especially with more immediate tools, such as WhatsApp, reporting weaknesses. Rather than delete all bank accounts and become survivalists, the 3310 can be seen as a gesture: a desire to retain a level of control, while maintaining connection. Digital detox hasn’t worked for us, but perhaps digital rewind will?
Nostalgia is another key point here, with many of the excited comments coming from those who grew up around the millennium; the 3310 would have offered a major source of early independence. Saying this, it’s worth noting that we often compare innovation to that immediately preceding it, so that when we jump back further, we can be in for a shock.
To use the example of Thimbleweed Park (a new point and click adventure game harping back to the classic days of Broken Sword and Monkey island), despite looking retro the creator, Ron Gilbert has constructed it to be “how you remember those games, as opposed to how they actually were.” The colours, content and many other features are actually far beyond what would have been possible at the time. Humans, as we keep needing to be reminded, don’t have the best memories.
Finally, the idea of ‘connecting with a product’ in the technology space has run very differently from a more dominant trends (namely that of craft) running through analogue categories: food, drink, clothing and many others in recent years. Within the craft narrative it was about simplifying the number of ingredients and telling the story through the strength of this, technology has been more successful by presenting a more complex product but focusing on a single aspect to sum up the rest. The 3310, as a technology product and something simple from the past, is able to straddle both these narratives. I feel I can ‘get it’ more than an iPhone, which holds something over me in it’s distance. If I need to change the battery on my 3310, it’s a two second job for the non-specialist.
Aside from some niche markets (elderly users, festival phones etc.) it seems unlikely the 3310 will be overtaking more recent models soon, but it does show that even with their wealth of features and services, modern technology can still learn from a millennium classic.
*Though, it doesn’t seem like a surprise that ‘the most reliable phone ever made’ would have a place in people’s hearts at a time of extreme uncertainty
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