Analog Revenge

Most of us have noticed, over the recent past, the re-emergence of older technologies, like paper, vinyl recordings, and film photography. David Sax, The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter (New York: Public Affairs, 2016), charts this phenomenon and explains why it has happened. Sax explains that in such cases, like paper, that the older technology excels in fundamental ways that supports its existence even in the midst of the array of glittering digital technologies. How many Moleskine notebooks do you have? I possess at least half a dozen. They are not only functional, but they just look cool, especially along side my Apple laptop. This “notebook became a symbol of aspirational creativity, a product that not only worked well as a functional tool, but told a story about you, even if you never wrote on a single page” (p. 35). This is a collection of stories and first-hand accounts, documenting that consumers have desires that range far beyond the digital. For archivists, what is happening reminds us that there remains surprises in the consumer marketplace that work against the demise of older recording technologies. Some of Sax’s examples, such as the persistence of the printed book, often deemed to be dead, are quite compelling. In the case of the book, he says, “the reasons are simple: reading on paper is highly functional and almost second nature for us” (p. 111). I have thousands of books, and not just because I like them as artifacts; I mark them up, sort them, and use them as the spines of my class lectures and seminar discussions. And Sax reminds us that “Silicon Valley is an idealistic place” with a “soul and heart . . . intimately tied to the counterculture movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. When startup founders stand on stages at technology conferences and promise to change the world, their sentiment is genuine, and their belief in the transformational power of technology for good is downright religious” (p. 225). But our persistent use of older analog technologies suggests another kind of religious fervor for these older forms. Sax reminds us that life is a bit more complicated than in the promises made to us through the high-tech advertisers and true-believer pundits.

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