The Revenge of Analog

I have been reading The Revenge of Analog:  Real Things and Why They Matter, a book published last year by a Canadian writer, David Sax, which analyses the ways in which, in a number of industries, new disruptive digital technologies which appear to revolutionise an industry have frequently been superceded or supplemented by a niche reinvention of the older analogue technology, as in the rediscovery of the merits of vinyl, the making and marketing of Moleskine notebooks, a relatively recent invention (they were only established in 1997), the revival of specialist print magazines (Cereal is given the example, alongside the growth in circulation of the Economist), the opening of new local bookshops, and Shinola, the new manufacturing company based in Detroit.   The narrative in each of the chapters is essentially the same:  the superficial allure of new digital technology, followed by the discovery that new systems of digital working cannot altogether replace the virtues and benefits of empathy, emotion and human interaction.   It feels like an appropriate book to be reading in the land of Slow Food.

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4 thoughts on “The Revenge of Analog

  1. Kate Woodhead says:

    I always thought Moleskin notebooks were used by Bruce Chatwin and had a history that went back to the early 20th century and were used by artists. I’ve used them for years.

    • Yes, they’re based on the notebooks used by Bruce Chatwin as described in Songlines, but this derivation was apparently exaggerated for marketing purposes and the reality is that, in their current incarnation, it’s a new – and very successful – company (I didn’t know this either). Charles

  2. There are a number of roots to this conundrum. First, there was an artificial divide created between the physical and the digital, as if the latter succeeded and were separate from the former – the EFF Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, virtual reality, e-commerce, Second Life, digital-everything – when the reality was the digital and the physical complement and enhance one another, as do all old and new technologies. We can see this in the ‘Internet of Things’ phenomenon.

    Second, newer technologies enhance and often revive older technologies, as Prof. David Edgerton argued in his book ‘The Shock of the New’. (The height of sail-powered ship technology was after the transition to steam-powered ships, etc.) So, the growth of specialist magazines is built on the development of digital publishing tools that created the Web, as well Internet technologies such as email and file transfer. Also, ads for specialist magazines are sold electronically, they are marketed digitally, purchased and paid for online, and discussed via social media. The only thing about them that is analogue is the artefact itself.

    Third, the transition to digital models of activity – in word, domestically, socially – has left people wanting more analogue experiences, as Esther Dyson anticipated in Release 1.0 in the mid-90s.

    • Thank you for these comments. What I thought was good about Sax’s book is that he perfectly well acknowledges the inter-relationships between the digital and analogue worlds, as in the case of magazine publishing which you mention. It’s not a Luddite book, merely exploring the way that too much emphasis on an exclusive digital universe has produced an obvious reaction in terms of the rise of small-scale, niche, analogue products. In fact, it turns out that Sax is himself an investor in new technology companies. Charles

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