Polaroid is Back!

Another victory for tactile technology.

Living life online is all well and good, but we have to strike a balance between the lives we live on Google, Facebook, Reddit, Flickr, and YouTube, and the life we live in our bodies, out of doors and away from the computer. Otherwise, we're all gonna end up like those sad people in WALL-E or Surrogates.

As digital technology becomes increasingly accessible and integrated into our everyday lives, balancing between the two worlds is becoming more and more a choice that we have to actively participate in. We have to decide what we want from our globally-connected, high-speed, content-rich digital world, and what we want from our physically active, movement-oriented, sensory-rich world.

As such, we're finding ourselves immersed in a culture making choices between certain technologies that deepen our experiences in the worlds we choose to inhabit. And over the last few years, we've been seeing an interesting move in the direction of choosing to embrace and preserve certain tactile technologies that have been challenged by new digital iterations of the services they provide.

For example, the last few years have seen the resurgence of the vinyl record. More and more artists are printing vinyl. While the tape couldn't stand up to the CD, and the CD couldn't stand up to the mp3, it seems that vinyl is proving itself to be a perennial classic, thanks to sound quality, yes, but also, in large part, thanks to the quality of the physical experience of owning and enjoying a piece of vinyl, with its large-format cover art, pleasing texture, and enduring quality.

The same can be said, this week, for the Polaroid picture. After three years of obscurity and pseudo-extinction, Polaroid is back with a new camera (developed in partnership with Fujifilm), and a creative direction called The Polaroid Movement, which positions Polaroid instant photography as an integral part of creative communities and projects.

Hype aside, the return of the Polaroid instant photo is a sign of the times. Despite the fact that a cheap camera phone can do almost everything a Polaroid camera can do – take a picture, instantly share it with friends, include cute notes along with pics – there's a concrete charm and satisfaction to the instant photo that may allow it to live alongside its digital progeny.

The magic of an instantly produced, physical image, and the appeal of sharing the tactile object with friends, makes instant photography unique, and something that seems to our collective unconscious, as does the vinyl record, to be a technology worth having in our physical lives, despite the existence of obviously simpler, cheaper digital alternatives.

The same trend we're seeing emerge here is one that will come to bear heavily on the future of print. It will be interesting to see, in the coming years, if the ereader does, in fact, manage to usurp the magazine and the book, or if, after a time, a balance is struck between the reading we do in our digital lives and the enjoyment of reading a book or a magazine in our physical lives.

Similarly, a balance will likely be found to govern the future of commercial printing. While some types of print may find themselves replaced entirely by digital alternatives, print that we take physical enjoyment from – business cards, postcards, greeting cards, posters, vehicle wraps, apparel, etc. – will find a permanent and comfortable roll in the physical world.

Of course, all this speculation about choosing to preserve tactile technologies is based on the premise that, while it might be possible to stare at a computer screen all day, it's probably not advisable. The continued relevance and resilience, then, of industries like printing, might be directly linked to the future of our interactions with the physical world. Obviously, Polaroid is confident that we're creative enough to choose a balance. Are you?

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