Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Revenge of Analog by David Sax

1938 Corona Sterling Typewriter, Sonic Youth's Murray Street on vinyl, David Sax's new book
(Where is my fountain pen?)

This is exactly the kind of book I should never read.
I read a review The New York Times and thought it a fascinating idea. I write with fountain pens and old typewriters. I am fascinated by mechanical devices, hardware free of software, that go on and on. One of my typewriters was manufactured in 1938 and works just as well now. My pen is eight years old and will go at least another decade. And David Sax’s book can last centuries. I like that about analog and mechanical devices.
Contrast it with the smartphone I had to replace after only three years because the it would no longer be updated and the power button went to hell. My first smartphone, new in 2008, couldn’t be used today. It’s dead because software has moved on. So it goes in the digital world.
The table of contents gives a good picture of the book:
Part 1: The Revenge of Analog Things
  • Chapter 1: The Revenge of Vinyl
  • Chapter 2: The Revenge of Paper
  • Chapter 3: The Revenge of Film
  • Chapter 4: The Revenge of Board Games

Part 2: The Revenge of Analog Ideas
  • Chapter 5: The Revenge of Print
  • Chapter 6: The Revenge of Retail
  • Chapter 7: The Revenge of Work
  • Chapter 8: The Revenge of School
  • Chapter 9: The Revenge of Analog, in Digital
  • Epilogue: The Revenge of Summer

The danger of such a book is that I’m easily influenced. I read “The Revenge of Vinyl” just after buying my first record in twenty-five years (for a friend’s party) and then bought a turntable. After “The Revenge of Paper” I picked up a notebook again. You get the idea.
David Sax’s ideas fit with mine about how tools should work and last. It fits my urge to slow down and pay attention. And he doesn’t demand choice. He’s not all or nothing, one or the other. He wants both digital and analog. Perhaps his primary claim is that we shouldn’t throw the analog baby out with the digital bath water.
The book reminds me of this quote from Sister Parish: “Innovation is often the ability to reach into the past and bring back what is good, what is beautiful, what is useful, what is lasting.” Sax pulls from the past the very idea of analog things and thinking.
When I drop the needle of my turntable on the record I bought, is won’t sound as clean as the copy streamed from my phone and there’s no reason I need a turntable (my wife is still shaking her head over that purchase), but to be more analog is to be more in direct contact with things, to feel the friction and heat of that contact. This might balance the cold approximation of the real world we can get in ones and zeroes.

Sax’s book isn’t a page turner unless you’re weird like me, but it is dangerous. It may have you wanting to dig deeper into living. It could send you to a record shop or bookstore where you’re in danger of running into your fellow human beings. So watch out. But go read it and then come over and we’ll throw some vinyl on the turntable and kick back to listen and talk things over. I’ll make coffee.