The desire for real things in real time lies deep in the human psyche argues David Sax in The Revenge of Analog.

Evenings, after supper, my father loved to listen to music. Gently removing a record from the sleeve, he would place it on the turntable and, equally as tenderly, place the needle carefully in the groove.  I would wait, with baited breath, for the song to play, as the speakers hissed into the silence.  Suddenly, with a pop and a sigh like a burst of good champagne, The Beatles’ Strawberry Fields Forever flowed out into the room.

Since then, like David Sax, the award-winning author of The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter, I too have spent years “divorcing my music collection from physical reality” – especially after the smartphone. Ok, now that Beatles’ song, and infinitely more, is there whenever and wherever I want, digitally enhanced. So why do I keep feeling something is missing?

Is it nostalgia for the uncomplicated world of pen and paper, or the imperfections of music not digitally remastered?  Sax thinks there’s more to it: “The post-digital economy [is] growing to meet a new demand for analog goods,” because they offer us something greater than simple memory, he writes. They allow a fuller expressive range, a deeper connection.

Boundless Creativity

Children understand this, and Sax finds himself surrounded by nine-year-olds who prefer paper.  These scions of the digital age like to write notes and share them, to follow along with their fingers – none of which is possible on a tablet. One girl commented she would “rather be limited by the space on a page, than … by a computer program.”

From graphic designers to entrepreneurs, people have reverted to analogue: “The easiest and most ubiquitous way to get stuff out of your head is pen and paper.”  Even at tech companies, as Sax learned by attending a drawing workshop at Google and investigating Adobe’s “Kickbox,” filled with very analogue Post-It Notes, markers, and coffee.

Bloggers, those ever-present generators of online content, are now publishing high-end niche magazines in droves.  “The permanence of paper conferred another level of credibility.” And their market is growing, influenced by the “finishability” of print and “the haptic variation” from page to page that helps to “stem the tide of information overload.”

The revenge of analog
David Sax
The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter
(PublicAffairs, 2016)
304 pp.
€ 21.62 // Cover courtesy of publisher

In Vienna, the Lomography Movement rediscovered the lushness of analogue photography in the 1990s, which was “more saturated with light and color, and had darkened edges and unpredictable variations in tone.“ It is now re-influencing the goals of digital photography.

Friends in real places

The constant presence of the online world of Facebook and Amazon makes it hard to imagine the attraction of bookstores or board game cafés.  But Sax still remembers the friends he made over table top games of Quarto, “Tic-Tac-Toe’s sexy European cousin,” amidst the “belly laughs, defeated groans, surprised screams, triumphant shouts, and the click-clack of plastic and wood on cardboard” at Snakes and Lattes, a busy board-game café in downtown Toronto.

He chats about“hand selling” with shop owners in New York City.  In an independent bookstore, “it’s not about pushing ‘the right literature’, it’s about having that conversation,” Sax writes, understanding the reader and providing the best book. The analog, real-time nature of this interaction offers a deeper connection and a better experience – a far cry from the Netflix algorithm, which repeatedly recommends Bio-Dome, despite his expressed distaste for the film.

Sax is an engaging writer whose characteristic dry humour and gift for anecdote carry this story of our desire to interact with real things – our deep-seated psychological preferences for paging through a magazine or browsing through library stacks, or pulling that favourite record off the shelf and putting it lovingly on the turntable.