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Everything old is new again: Why luxury writing instrument company MontBlanc has created augmented paper

Polaroid cameras, Gameboy Nintendo’s, record players, high-quality pens and paper – items that should’ve been deemed obsolete by the rise of tech have never been cooler to obtain. We talk with Montblanc New Zealand director Neil Baudinet about why its luxury stationery is still going strong and why it’s merged new tech with the old.

As new technology becomes sleek and shinier, there’s a beauty to behold in the old.

There’s ample evidence that despite major technology advancements, we can’t give up our love affair with older technology: While Polaroid has filed for bankruptcy twice in the age of digital cameras, it’s found resurgence in selling its film cameras, given the growing number of people who want a physical copy of a photo instantly.

Record players have also found fans in the 21st century, while paperback books continue to demand attention on shop shelves, as do magazines (you can get the latest copy of Idealog here).

Another key example of this is stationery. With computers and mobile phones within fingertip’s reach, the need for notetaking could appear to have diminished.

As well as this, a debate is being waged worldwide over whether kids in schools still need to be taught cursive handwriting, or whether they can depend on technology and scrawled, regular handwriting to get by.

But Montblanc New Zealand director Neil Baudinet says he has never been concerned that that the art of writing will be lost.

“I struggle with the idea of humans not writing, because we started back where we scratched with a stick in the mud, on cave walls and with the Rosetta stone. I don’t see us losing that,” Baudinet says.

Montblanc is a German brand renowned for making sophisticated, high-quality writing instruments, and has been doing so for over 110 years.

Some might also make the mistake of thinking it too could become archaic, but Baudinet says despite the rise of new, modern notetaking devices like tablets or mobile phones, the company has had strong double-digit growth year-on-year.

“Fundamentally we have not seen a dip in terms of people writing. People aren’t giving it up,” he says.

However, it isn’t staying stuck in the past, either. It has created an augmented reality paper that has a digitising tablet beneath it and when written or drawn on, the notes can be transferred to a person’s tablet or phone via app with the click on a button.

The notebook and pen use electro magnetic resonance (EMR) senses to turn the writing and doodling made on the pad into a digital file, with the file transferred through Bluetooth. The tech is also trained to recognise a user’s handwriting and after a certain amount of use, it will be able to digitise the writing into typed notes.

“They’ve looked to bridge the link between that historic context and today’s technology age. People still love to write in general and they said, let’s try bridge that gap and turn people’s writing into easily usable technology,” Baudinet says.

Scenarios it could work particularly well in are work meetings, he says, where someone is able to take notes without a computer obstructing their view and creating a barrier between them and other people.

“Also, unless you’re a touch typer, you can write generally much faster than you can type, and your average business person suddenly has a speed advantage.”

While at first thought, purists might balk at the thought of pens and paper being combined with such technology, Baudinet says he thinks they’re going to be the ones that wholeheartedly embrace it.

“With purists, you’re identifying with people that love that tactile pen on paper experience, but have almost by default been forced to use tablets or phones to take notes. This makes the experience far more comfortable for them,” he says.

Alongside this, Montblanc also launched a smartwatch that looks like a traditional, classic design, but has Google’s technology within it.

“That’s the kind of DNA that Montblanc is doing with stuff that’s tech – classic looking, but has this modern technology,” Baudinet says. “It’s old school yet modern. Aside from userability, it’s a really cool thing to show people.”

With traditional technologies never being more in fashion, there’s sure to be more collisions between the old and the new.

Except maybe cassette tapes ­– we’re not betting on seeing them make a comeback anytime soon.

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