Why are vinyl albums so cool again?

Old tech fulfils three needs we are denied of in a digital world.

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

A few weeks back, I stopped by at a thrift store. An inexplicable gravitational force pulled towards the vinyl album section. Vinyl! The technology that was birthed soon after the invention of the light bulb. It’s fans seem to be on the rise. (I am fully aware that my vinyl album taste puts a date-stamp on my age: Engelbert Humperdinck for instance, and Olivia Newton John.)

This imperfect, scratchy sound of music has found its way back into our lives — like the Polaroid cameras. Or the music of Queen. When I was a teenager we sang along to the anthem-like lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody. Today my 12- and 13- year old’s know every word of it. So my question is: why are old media formats so indestructible? Why, for example, hasn’t vinyl gone the way of, say, fax machines? Why do Taylor Swift and Billie Eilish release albums on records even while everything else is drawn to streaming platforms? I’m really, really perplexed about this.

I am looking for answers because in my writing and publishing class, a discussion of platforms and formats comes up a lot — something writers must keep their eye on because their audience preferences will always change, sometimes faster than they can keep up with. How might the content be consumed? Songwriters and poets, authors and podcasters, videographers, script writers, and web designers have to be one step ahead of the game. Remember how Prince wrestled with not just copyright, but distribution of his music?

My appetite for vinyl was whetted after I picked up a old record player at Bookman’s. It’s one of those suitcase-type players with a built-in speaker that can fill a room quite well no matter how squirrelly the track is. The Humperdinck double album was a steal!

Humperdinck has an interesting backstory that I refer to in my podcast below, if you’re interested. (You can also listen to a few tracks from Grease and Queen!)

This pull toward older technologies is larger than the music industry. I wanted to dig a bit deeper into this so I asked some of my colleagues about the ‘ancient’ technologies they use in that classroom and elsewhere. Don Meyer, my colleague who teaches British lit, said that he recently found cassette tapes of Macbeth were indispensable. Cassettes, for goodness sakes! Mrs. Walters, reminded me of one of the technologies that will probably never become extinct: The textbook. Duh!

So, here are three reasons old tech doesn’t have an expiry date? It is reliable. It is often fixable. And it’s available despite it being relegated to the old school. To the last point, fortunately it’s possible to find almost anything out of circulation on eBay. Including typewriter ribbons, film rolls, and those cassette tapes of Macbeth, starring Sir Alec Guinness. But I’d first go to the thrift store, because you never know what might show up in the vinyl section.

Here’s a fun fact: I’ve got a Corona typewriter in my class — a computer lab with 39 PCs. You should see students line up to use it!

All this jargon gets me woke

There was a time when words like ‘grok‘ made me cringe. This was at the height of the social media frenzy, when everyone and their brother was jostling to get onto Facebook, asking “What’s Facebook anyway?” Grok? If you have no idea what this means, never mind. It still makes me cringe.

So a few weeks back I recorded a podcast about tech jargon, a topic close to my heart. Two reasons.

1, Technology is turning us into bots, and before we begin speaking like Siri, it’s time to raise the red flag. We teachers demand clarity; we whip out the red marker no sooner we spot clichés. Or redundancies. Or words that we don’t grok.

2. I wanted to keep up the podcast momentum during summer, as I was testing a new app and using my recorder with a new mic. I plan to use it in class when we get back to school – tomorrow.

HERE’S THE THING. All of us – yes we the grown-ups – let slivers of jargon fall into everyday word salads we call lectures. When I catch myself in jargonizing mode, I pause, apologize to my students and move on. 

Which is what this episode is all about. Hope you like it. It’s just 12 minutes. Tell me what you think, please.

Surprising things happen when Digital Natives get their hands on old-school cameras

Here’s a batch of pictures taken by my students yesterday. Cameras may seem ‘old school’ but there’s always an interest in the basics of aperture, lighting, and perspective. In my Ed-Tech class, 5th and 6th graders can’t seem to have enough of this, as the results show.

An accidental homage to Silicon Valley?

Digital City?

Two very different perspectives of a robotic arm

There are much more! Who knows what ideas they will come back with after Spring Break?

Technology lessons – No books required!

Sometimes you don’t need text books to learn a skill.I don’t usually advise young people to skip university, but I know of many folks who have learned incredible skills, never having stepped into a classroom for the past 20 years. One friend fixes BMWs as a hobby (sometimes has about 10 in his driveway). Another runs a mid-sized marketing communications agency, but has built and operates an eco-resort. The former never went to engineering school. The latter never took a class in architectural design or management.

And my point is, we often hone our skills in our garages, and our basements.These are our ‘labs.’ No one gives us a certificate for these long hours of professional development.

Here’s a related example: Children learning about science and tech on a farm. Think of it as a STEM lab in Nebraska.

Cows. BMWs. Conservation. Plenty of knowledge out there, not found in books and lectures.

It’s a kite. It’s a tethered bird. Could it be a drone?

I love how this guy is disrupting the idea of what we think of a drone, to re-frame it as a kite.

A kite that takes pictures, that is.

Funny how we box ourselves in by classifying things the way they originally emerged as. Is a cell phone today really a phone? Ore more recently, with the idea of a supersized ‘commuter drone’, is a drone a light aircraft that may or may not need to be autonomous? But apart from the boxing ourselves in, the need to be creative is often stymied by those who are reluctant to make mistakes.

Sergei Lupashin, in the video below spoke at an Education technology conference last year about this. His point being we need to get young people to feel comfortable with making  a lot of mistakes! That is how we could make breakthroughs


If you haven’t seen the Chinese-made single passenger drone, here’s how they position it – learning from their mistakes. Um crashes!


So kids aren’t playing with rubber bands and string anymore?

True story: Recently I took a small group of students to visit a lab, and while breaking for lunch on some garden benches, they began climbing the trees nearby. They were getting a bit noisy when a lady walking by stopped and looked up into the branches. I thought I would get asked to get them to ‘behave’. But the lady smiled and said loudly to others passing by, “Look! look! children are playing on trees again!”

It took me a few seconds to figure out what she was really saying – that having seen so many kids today plugged into screens, it’s thrilling to see them having fun scampering up trees. (Side note: this was outside a Mars Space lab in Tempe, Arizona, and we were on a field trip to see a whole lot of technology!)

Drawing from : 7th period: Feed a Fish Wikispaces page Click on image to visit this class project page

I keep this in mind when I introduce students to new technologies. Last week, I began a lesson on animation, and as subject matter, I returned to the ‘Rube Goldberg Machine.’ We don’t always need screens for this. (Unless we need to check out the many Rube Goldberg contests like this.). How could we turn students into makers, and innovators, problem-solvers and scientific thinkers?

A Rube Goldberg Machine (or ‘contraption‘) teaches us a lot about levers, gravity, kinetic energy, and chain reactions among other things – such as precision, iterative design, and learning from failure. All it takes is some lengths of wood, string, paper cups, shoe boxes, old clothes hangers, marbles and/or ping-pong balls, rubber bands and cardboard tubes.

I like to get them to ‘design’ their machine first, and see what they come up with – then set them on a building mission! We could use a drawing app, but paper and pencil work just fine!

Image on right – One of the manyprojects from a 7th grade class – found here

Pros and Cons for Technology in the Classroom

Your child probably goes to school with a device in her backpack with more processing power than the rocket that took men to the moon, and this child wants to be… an astronaut?

You’ve forgotten how to log into your son’s school website to download his missed homework, but… he’s found a way to ‘jailbreak’ your cell phone?

Yes, teaching and learning is changing!

My July technology column was about tech in the classroom, which somewhat coincided with my talking to teachers in Sri Lanka about technology and STEM. Indeed, there are still those who want limited screens – parents of hi-tech execs, of all people. And those who think otherwise. Which side are you on?

Social media minus geek-speak and PowerPoint

I head to the IABC International conference in New York that starts next week. Two things I can expect: To meet a lot of folk interested in social media, and to see see a lot of PowerPoint slides 🙂

But what has left an indelible mark on me is a series of videos created by Lee and Sachi LeFever and his wife at CommonCraft. This one, particularly on social media in plain English.

If you’re interested, CommonCraft says they offer licensed versions to ‘educators and influencers.’

As someone who writes about this stuff, attempting to demystify technology and clear the fog that hovers over technology, I think this work is pure genius.

Device Independent Media is coming

These three words may not mean much today, so save it for later in your brain.

What it means is that a content provider –even your company– could produce media content that is smart enough to know what platform is being used to access that content, and then configuring the story/video/slides etc on the fly to make the experience relevant. It is not simply about resizing the content to fit the screen, but editing the story for your device.

Think about it. If you’re reading a story on Myanmar on your iPhone or via ‘smart goggles‘ you have less tolerance for detail, and may want more images and a high level description that loads fast.

When you access the same story on your laptop, you may have time and screen real estate for larger graphics, more context, maps, and other detail.

And should you be browsing on your 60-inch High def TV, you may appreciate longer length video pieces because your battery life or your broadband signal isn’t something to worry about.

The New York Times is looking into this, as Mike Zimbalist explains, here.