The ’90s was truly the last analog decade. When the new millennium rolled around we all made the switch over to digital as if it were commanded by time itself. It was a gradual process: the first 3G networks appeared in 1998 to pave the way for the ubiquity of all-purpose mobile phones; Apple introduced its iPod in 2001; peer-to-peer technology really took off as people discovered services like Napster from ’99; and social networking was embedded in our lives with the launch of MySpace in 2003 and Facebook in 2004.
As we melted into our comfier digital lives, what we lost was the mechanical satisfaction of analog devices: buttons, levers, clips, and sliders. How quickly our familiarity with older technology fades away is best evidenced in the “Kids React To” series on YouTube. When presented with a Sony Walkman they prod its hard black plastic as if it would suddenly pop into action, ready to serve their mind’s desire. It doesn’t, of course, and within seconds they’re either seeking an adult’s assistance or are shooting perplexed expressions at the alien artifact in their hands.
Growing up in the past decade, these kids are used to technology reacting to their touch; they interact with screens, and can ignore the back-end mechanisms that make it all work. “You have to actually do stuff,” one of them comments after learning how the Walkman works. It’s an observation that sums up how effortless technology has become since the ’90s. That’s a good thing, as progress tends to be, but a series of “electronic items” gifs by French designer Guillaume Kurkdjian momentarily lets us forget that in order to celebrate the physicality of ’90s electronics.
Each gif faithfully recreates a machine of the pre-millennium. Not just in look, but by motion, almost as if it were a tutorial for those unfamiliar with how each of these high-tech gadgets (for the time) are operated. The triangular button of the CD-player is pushed in and the lid pops up like an alligator’s jaw in waiting. The handycam loops in a series of smooth sliding motions, latches releasing, the lens unveiled behind a sleek dust cover. Even the ecru tone of the vintage computers has been flattered in its realization, complete with monochrome monitors, hidden compartments, and flashing LEDs.
For many of us there is nostalgia to be found in these 3D animations. Seeing an old portable CD player only reminds me of the time I caught a pinch of finger skin between the lid and the hardware as I closed it, leaving a tiny but painful bruise. I also remember the albums that I span on those machines, being careful not to tip it so that the CD tilted and the laser scratched the disc—a problem easily solved by mp3 players. But for others, younger generations, these machines from the past hold a different, unknowable kind of wonder. One that makes them shout out “what?!” in utter bewilderment.
You can see the full range of Kurkdjian’s “electronic items” series on his website and the project’s Tumblr page.