“They don’t build them like they used to…” “Nothing beats the old vinyl records.” And so on… But what’s the truth? Do they build them like they used to? Is vinyl better than digital? Is the past just a romantic ideal?
Everyone who’s over 50 grew up with a record player like this:
It worked great, assuming you taped a handful of nickels to the top of the tone arm to keep it from bouncing around. And you used those tinny speakers. There were bunches of dials:
Listening to music was fun, because you had to do something. Go to a record store. Pick one out. Open it up. Read the liner notes. Smell that new record smell. Twist the deals, whether for not they did anything. But was the sound better? Er… audiophiles argue over this, with many insisting that vinyl is superior. But they’re spending over $50,000 on just the turntable. If you’ve just spent that much, who is going to admit they’re wrong? But my cellphone sounds better in one of those cheap bluetooth speakers than my coin-laden turntable ever did. Do we miss the labor of love that was vinyl, the romance? Do we value convenience over extra effort? It’s an unanswerable question. Our individual responses change with the mood we’re in, or the rush we’re in.
The organic farm movement, the farm-to-table restaurants, heirloom gardening, the decluttering, the downsizing of houses, and recycling all attest to our current fascination with getting back to our analogue, slowed-down selves. We would like to be less-wasteful, more thoughtful people. My hope is that it’s more than just a trend.
It’s impossible to argue against the improvement the digital world has brought to our lives. The speed of information, the ability to research obscure topics, easy access to music, art and literature from all over the world is a boon to humanity. The tug-of-war between the pseudo-reality of the digital world and the deliberate, mindful analogue life we’d like to live is the crux of a fascinating problem right now.
The preservation community needs to take advantage of this struggle. For example, old houses are already built. There’s none of the wasted energy or pollution created as with new construction. With modern building codes in place for new construction, renovation and restoration are far more cost-effective. There’s the built-in character. Older neighborhoods are in the choice areas, with the prettiest mature lots.
There will be a plethora of old buildings coming to market soon, with old schools and churches being closed. Instead of allowing them to fall into disrepair, fresh ideas and capital need to be brought in to keep them the vital community centers they once were. It’s all in the publicity and how they’re presented. Pop-up events with food, music, arts, and vendors can bring needed visibility to these buildings, often creating ideas for investors. People now want to do things, not have things for the sake of having them.
If the preservation community is going to thrive, the focus has to change and grow with the times. Focusing on preserving structures so we have beautifully preserved artifacts is a nice goal, but limited. We need to concentrate on preserving a lifestyle. A more mindful, less-wasteful, more creative, and more tactile lifestyle. The lifestyle that people right now are yearning for. An analog life. Do this, and the buildings will be just fine.