I’m frantically tapping away to keep my Tamagotchi happy and sitting across from my buddies as we slam cardboard on the table yelling, “It’s time D-D-D-D-Duel!”. It’s not the late 1990s or early 2000s, it’s 2024 and I’m the latest sucker caught up in the newstalgic wave crashing into tech and entertainment.
I’m far from the only one being dragged by the current. Our Camera Editor is enamored with the Lego Retro Camera set, JBL delighted us with its retro-styled Dolby Atmos-powered Authentics 500 speaker, and we can’t get enough of apps that make our iPhones look like a classic iPod or modern PCs like they’re running on an ancient Windows OS.
But what makes newstalgia – a portmanteau of new and nostalgia – the powerful riptide it is? Why can’t we get enough of this stuff that simultaneously harkens back to the classics we loved while feeling not at all out of place in our modern world?
To find an answer I turned to two newstalgia experts – representatives from Bandai and Konami. They revealed it’s all about the enduring popularity of a timeless concept and a new generation of parents.
Never going out of fashion
You can’t just spin anything from a bygone era into a modern sensation. Bandai representatives explained to me that the continued success of its Tamagotchis is their “timeless appeal.”
For Tamogotchis, their popularity is fueled by our innate nurturing behavior. “Children love playing with dolls, pretending to be parents. Tamagotchis are the next step up from that.” Bandai adds that for as long as there are kids looking to graduate from dolls to something more interactive, but who maybe aren’t yet ready to help care for a living breathing animal, virtual pets will be a popular way to fill the gap.
This enduring popularity tracks for other newstalgic hits. Listening to high-quality uncompressed music will never go out of fashion – that’s why the best turntables are still in vogue. And we’ll always want to take, and share, and physically have snaps from our adventures with friends and loved ones – that’s why you can still buy new best instant cameras.
What’s more, this tech isn’t ancient – it’s still being updated and adapted.
New turntables can double as Bluetooth speakers, or instead of a camera you could pick up a pocket-sized printer to get the benefits of your high-tech camera phone while also getting a physical instant print of your snaps.
Similarly, alongside the classic egg-shaped pendants we all know and love there’s the Tamagotchi Uni. It has everything the original did but comes with a built-in motion sensor, to encourage more active play and a full-color display that brings the digital critters to life in a new way.
These upgrades don’t fundamentally alter the product from the thing we always wanted as kids. So when we finally have the income to afford it (and no one to tell us no) the new features only help to justify our purchase. It doesn’t matter if we don’t have many records, we can use it as a speaker. The virtual pet will encourage us to go out and walk more, or whatever excuse we tell ourselves.
They’ll also make it easier for the parents among us to pass their favorite tech, toys, and entertainment on to the next generation.
While for some people, millennials will never shake the image of being carefree avocado-on-toast-guzzling youths, time has passed and people of this generation are now almost exclusively in their 30s and 40s. They’re starting, or already have, young families; and, much like their parents before them, millennials want to introduce their children to the things they loved when they were kids.
But for youngsters, retro gear seems uncool, unapproachable, unintuitive, and downright ugly. This is where the new in newstalgia comes in.
I’ve already mentioned the Tamagotchi Uni. Bandai explained that its color screen and motion sensor bring the toy more in line with the tech expectations of today’s youth from both an aesthetic and functionality perspective.
Then there’s Yu-Gi-Oh!’s Speed Duel format. A Konami representative explained this format has been adapted with elements that are simultaneously vintage and contemporary – such as the Skill Cards that reference the classic anime and crank up the pace of games to help with short attention spans.
“Speed Duel is designed to be approachable to not only newcomers but lapsed players – people who last picked up a deck when Yugi and Jaden were the anime’s main protagonists.” They added, “We’ve heard from a lot of parents that this is how they’ve introduced their children to Yu-Gi-Oh!, and that they've enjoyed sharing their childhood with them through Speed Duel."
Or there are options like the Lego Retro Camera. If this toy gets damaged, fixing it is as simple as clicking the bricks back together – a heck of a lot easier than repairing an actual antique if that were to get broken.
The parents and children may have different reasons for loving the nostalgic experience, nevertheless, it’s something they can all enjoy together – rather than one side having to put up with the wants of the other as is often the case in family activities.
Don’t be a sucker
Our nostalgia and our desire to share happy experiences with our children are two powerfully manipulative marketing tools.
At times we’ll get suckered into a newstalgic experience we’ll never forget – like watching our kid win a card game tournament we used to compete in (a true story the Knoami representative told me about), creating a bricky sculpture together, or enjoying an ancient supply of vinyls and inspiring the next generation’s passion for music.
Other times we’ll be left feeling empty and silly when the novelty of our toy wears off, and all that remains is a hole in our wallet and an item we couldn't care less about.
Newstalgia isn't going anywhere given its continued popularity, and it can be a lot of fun to relive our childhoods through it. But the next time there's a gadget tugging at your heartstrings, tempting you with promises of taking you back to the good ol’ days, remember to pause.
Take in all the tricks newstalgia is playing and use your head (rather than your heart) to decide if you're still happy to buy it. Because as fun as a vinyl player is, sometimes what you really need is a much less chic wireless speaker.
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Hamish is a Senior Staff Writer for TechRadar and you’ll see his name appearing on articles across nearly every topic on the site from smart home deals to speaker reviews to graphics card news and everything in between. He uses his broad range of knowledge to help explain the latest gadgets and if they’re a must-buy or a fad fueled by hype. Though his specialty is writing about everything going on in the world of virtual reality and augmented reality.