I recently gave an interview on ‘Follow Me on Dead Media‘ film that was presented and awarded the judges’ choice award at the 2014 Association for Consumer Research conference (Baltimore, US). Since the interview was published in a Brazilian magazine (and available in a blog post by Mariela Castro here), I thought I might as well share some of the insights here in English.
Watch the film here:
(Some selected clips from the interview:)
1) Can you tell about your film/research and the approach taken?
My research focuses on a skateboarding scene based in Helsinki, Finland. It entails a diverse group of people in terms of their background but who are connected and share a keen and sincere interest in skateboarding. I would describe this scene as ‘alternative’ in the sense that, globally speaking, skateboarding has become part of mainstream mass culture and commercial markets already long time ago. The studied group of skateboarders therefore want to distance themselves from this mainstream tendency and instead look for alternative, more creative, and meaningful ways of being and enjoying skateboarding. I have followed this emerging group since March 2013, using interviews, participant observation, and by studying subcultural media – in other words, methods common to cultural studies. The study is still ongoing but I have already published some results in academic conferences.
2) What are the motivations of the studied young people to prefer analog over digital media?
This dialectic between the analog and digital media is what really interests me a lot. Previously, I have studied alternative scenes and genres in music and evidently the relation between analog vinyl records and digital music streaming is curious. I have been asking how can we explain the rising sales of vinyl records in an age when almost all music is easily accessible via sophisticated online technology. I first thought this might be a phenomenon specific to music only. However, I have now realized that it is not the case. For instance, we can also see a tendency of analog photographing and filmmaking coming back. My present study on skateboarding scene is another strong case in point. Instead of embracing social media such as YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, they adopted and were fascinated by the already abandoned, inefficient, and largely unused analog media such as “paper-scissors-and-glue” type zine magazines, typewriters, letters, VHS film, old-school cameras, and Instant lettering. I believe it has to do with the overload of digital and social media that is beginning to lose its charm. For example, so many ‘mediocre’ or poorly made skate films are being published online making it less and less interesting for the skateboarders to post something there. The analog media offers a particular, not too polished aesthetic that can be explored and used to create completely new meanings. I would say it is effectively a counter-reaction to the emergence of digital mass media.
3) Do you believe this phenomenon is typical of current days? Or have you noticed something similar in other periods of time, or generations?
I think the digital era is something unique from historical point of view considering it’s impact and character. So I don’t think we can find examples from the past quite like that. On the other hand, it is interesting that some media persist over time longer than others – for example, the case of radio, which is still popular even if it could have been replaced by more advanced media. On the other hand, what I find as a clear repeating pattern here – and well documented by prior research – is the way in which an idea, product, or medium becomes commercialized and brought to the masses and then gradually losing it’s charm, and thus eventually leading some group of people to look for inspiration elsewhere. I think this is now beginning to happen with regard to social media.
4) What impacts this might have on the economy or technology? Can we say this is already a consumption trend?
The turn to analog media is still quite a small-scale and marginal phenomenon. But the signs may eventually be seen. For example, in 2014, analog vinyl LP record sales has re-surged to reach million (pound) sales for the first time in 18 years. The sales has increased over five-fold in the last five years according to some statistics. This may be an example where many assumed analog to become an obsolete format and they were totally wrong.
5) What does this behaviour represent in terms of culture and social behaviour?
I feel that consumer culture is very fond of its past. The multitude of retro and vintage trends are good examples. People find comfort and warm memories linking with the past in a world that is increasingly focused on the future and moving forward at full speed. Yet, I would also like to emphasize that this “longing for the past” is probably not the only or at least to me very convincing explanation for the re-emergence of analog media. For example, some of the skateboarders I interviewed had absolutely no prior experience of the analog media they were now adopting. I mean, they had never tried a typewriter or even written a letter before in their lives. This leads to suggest that there is something fascinating in the aesthetic universe that the analog seems to offer – one which is perhaps more concrete, rugged, and unpolished. Something that is physically there and intensively felt. I can imagine such aesthetics to have resonance beyond this small example, in arts and other fields as well.
Also, I feel that it is a hasty conclusion to say that the analog would come back and replace the digital any time in the future. Rather we’re seeing a co-existence of various analog and digital media that can take up multiple forms and expressions.
Here’s a couple of other media hits for FMDM film:
Creating meaning in the abandoned by Non-use.org (2014-10-28)
Video: So lebendig sind die totgesagten Medienformen by W&V (2014-11-6)