We live in a digital world, but our technology is a mix of digital and analog. As more and more of our lives become obeisant to the gods of digital, reverting to analog technologies can be seen as a repudiation of the present, or as a form of resistance.
In The Revenge of Analog (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), David Sax looks at “Real things and how they matter.” He examines the way people are rediscovering analog technologies – vinyl records, print books and magazines, notebooks, film, and board games, among others – and how they are slowly becoming an important part of their lives.
(Check out my interview with David Sax on The Next Track podcast.)
I straddle the boundaries between digital and analog. I grew up in the analog era, and listened to vinyl records and cassettes during my formative years. I would never go back; I’m not in the throes of excitement when I see an LP, because I know how they sound. The first couple of times, they sound okay, but after a while, they become noisy, with pops and clicks.
But I also understand how some people find the process of listening to a vinyl record interesting. Unlike just selecting the name of an album, or a playlist, from a digital library, pulling out an record, removing it from its cardboard, then its paper sleeve, putting it on a turntable, and moving the tonearm are all part of a ritual. Many people have told me that when they listen to vinyl records, they do so differently; they pay more attention to the music.
I’m not convinced that everyone listens to vinyl for this reason; a lot of it is jumping on someone else’s train and adopting the latest cool thing. It’s the same with, say, Moleskine notebooks. They’ve become a symbol of a certain type of hipster. Cool with their iPhones and iPads, but still somehow grounded by writing on an expensive notebooks. (I’m not anti-notebook; I have a few Moleskines, though I prefer the Leuthtturm1917.)
David Sax looks as these phenomena, and discusses the many areas where analog is making a comeback. As he says:
The Revenge of Analog is occurring precisely because digital technology has become so damn good.
Sax looks at the resurgence of hand-crafted objects; in this case, watches. He looks at the revival of film; the silver-nitrate version. And he looks at how board games have become a popular tool for social experiences. In part, what ties these things together is the fact that:
Surrounded by digital, we now crave experiences that are more tactile and human-centric.
It’s fair to say that this analog revolution is a niche; it touches a small number of people, though probably a lot of “influencers,” at least in certain areas. I see it all around me: people I know, people I work with, or follow on social media, are all in some ways beholden to analog technologies. Sax misses one element of this trend by not examining why it is often the same people who are tempted by the analog in its many forms. While I don’t do vinyl, as I said, I have a few very nice pens; I write in notebooks, I play some board games (and have done for a very long time), and I wear a watch.
But this niche is growing, as more and more people discover the pleasure of owning nice things. Analog comes at a price, but people are more willing to spend a bit for something that isn’t as impersonal as the latest gadget. Part of this is fad and fashion, but part is the desire to own objects that have a certain something that digital simply can’t offer.