Back to the Future | Breakthrough Funding

Friday, June 16, 2017

Back to the Future

From early mobile phones to Pac-Man, retro is all the rage – but can the past spark fresh inspiration?

In 2017, it seems that you can barely move without stubbing your toe on the latest retro revival. Even Microsoft decided this week that the ultimate test for its exquisite AI system lay not in chess or even Go – but in the 1980s platform hit, Ms Pac-Man.

The year’s most trumpeted return so far has undoubtedly been the Nokia 3210 – a model that practically everyone owned in the early 2000s and, for many, marked their first foray into the mobile phone market. As the (only slightly) revamped 3310, the hero handset prompted a tsunami of nostalgia and an early Christmas for phone companies by selling out in its first week of release. 

If the reviews are to be believed, however, the novelty of Nokia past has been pretty short-lived. It seems to be a bit like discovering photos of your teenage self – the dodgy haircuts and hideous trousers might draw forth a sigh of affection for innocence lost, but that doesn’t mean you’d want to reinstate the look for a night on the town.  

Consumers who were only too keen to part with £50 of their hard-earned cash for a taste of Noughties simplicity soon remembered why they consigned the 3210 to the dustbin of handset history in the first place. Like your first car, a dated bit of tech can ooze warm memories of days gone by, with even its cranky bits wielding an unpretentious charm. But there’s a reason why we move on from the Austin Metro with the engine that only starts when you kick it – because our needs change, we become more sophisticated and we want tech that reflects who we are now, not who we were 10, five or even two years ago.

Can a mobile that offers just texting, calling, basic social media and Snake compete in an era when Richard Branson can practically run his entire business empire from his smartphone? Of course it can’t. But that doesn’t mean the groundswell of desire for a no-nonsense device from 1999 can’t teach us something about the future. 

The best innovators don’t just create new things from scratch; they look at how great ideas can be reimagined and reborn for the future, while retaining all the best bits. There must be a reason why people wanted, albeit briefly, to ditch their super-fast, super-smart 2017 mobiles for a relative brick created nearly 20 years ago. Bottle that, and we just might have our phone of the future.

If you’ve been inspired by past tech to change the future, get in touch with us on 0800 772 0800 and share your story.

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