As technology progresses we constantly have to adapt ourselves to an ever changing media landscape. Designers try to smooth the changes with a ‘progressive nostalgic‘ strategy: linking newfangled technologies with familiar phenomena.
Flipping through the bookshelf on your iPad, provides the owner with the familiar feeling of having an easily accessible library of books. The nostalgic reference to a wooden bookshelf makes the modern notion of a digital book collection graspable. At the same time, the digital storage of books is expected to have a huge impact on the publishing industry and the actual use of books: similar to the first cars that were designed as ‘horseless carriages’ and the ‘envelope’ icon you click to open your email application, which acceptance caused an drastic decrease in the use of actual envelopes, the digital book cabinet is a first sign of extinction for the physical book cabinets it so elegantly simulates.
A technology that already became extinct is simulated in the iRetroPhone rotary dialer application for those who want to dial grandma’s style.
Both the iPad bookshelf and the iRetroPhone app refer to a familiar technology, but contrary to the bookshelf, which adds the affordance of carrying your entire book collection in a device with the size of one book, the iRetroPhone merely mimics a nostalgic phenomenon without adding anything useful. Having a rotary dial on your phone doesn’t refer to an ancient human tradition or intuition – which can be the power of a progressive nostalgic design strategy. Rather, it refers to an analog technology that was already pretty clumsy when it was still a norm.
Perhaps in the long run, people may find the iPad Bookshelf metaphor equally corny as the iRetroPhone, but before that happens, some of the essential benefits of traditional books – e.g. the quiet view for the eyes, ability to read under any condition, independence on battery life – will have to be superseded by its digital counterparts.