2017-08-16 / Arts & Entertainment News

The attraction of analog ... in our digital world


THE FUTURE’S FINALLY HERE. We don’t have personal jetpacks yet, but we have computers in our homes, in our purses, on our wrists.

We’ve developing driverless cars. We can telecommute from home and order anything we want online.

We communicate via devices. We never have to leave our homes or interact with other human beings.

And yet …

We’re analog people living in a digital world.

We long for the personal touch, for things we can feel and handle.

Though we live in a digital world, we’re flocking to analog things, says David Sax, author of “The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter” ($25.99, Public Affairs Books). “Surrounded by digital, we now crave experiences that are more tactile and human-centric,” he explains in the introduction.

The idea for the book began almost 10 years ago. A couple of things happened at the same time, he says.

The appeal of 35 mm cameras and vinyl records is not lost on some. The appeal of 35 mm cameras and vinyl records is not lost on some. First, he digitalized his entire music collection, putting everything onto iTunes and getting rid of his CDs.

“There was an almost instantaneous decline in listening to music, because it was no longer there,” he says. “I could stream it, but it was out of sight, out of mind.”

Shortly after that, his roommate’s parents gave them their turntable and records.

“And we started listening and comparing the two,” he says. “We’d listen to Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ on vinyl and then to the same file we had on iTunes. It started a discussion. Not in terms of ‘This one sounds better,’ but it was more about the experience. We saw that in all sorts of places, the analog experience was being valued, and there was a growing interest in it.”

When a record store opened up a block and a half away from Mr. Sax’s home in Toronto five years ago, he started buying albums. As he noticed more and more record stores opening, he discovered the number of new vinyl records pressed and sold had increased more than tenfold over the past decade, resulting in a similar boom in turntable sales, and more new record stores.

In his book he writes of musicians such as Jack White (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs) who’ve started their own record labels (Mr. White has more than 400 artists on his) and of vinyl-record pressing plants whose staffs have tripled and work around the clock, pressing records.

Some musicians are also using old tape machines and vintage studio equipment and instruments to create a sound that’s “more heartfelt, raw and organic,” as he describes it.

Naples architect Stephen Hruby’s notes include reminders of tangential thoughts he has about what he hears in a meeting. Naples architect Stephen Hruby’s notes include reminders of tangential thoughts he has about what he hears in a meeting. Fans aren’t Luddites

Mr. Sax’s ink-and-paper book, also available as an eBook, examines the growing popularity of: vinyl records, Moleskine notebooks, film cameras (for photographs and movies), board games, print magazines and newspapers.

But he’s quick to explain that “The Revenge of Analog” isn’t a screed against technology and that the people he’s written about aren’t Luddites.

In fact, he writes in a chapter, “Whenever I told anyone who works in digital technology about ‘The Revenge of Analog,’ they immediately began speaking about their own deep fascination with analog. More often than not, they harbored a personal passion for analog things. By day they wrote code, but at night they collected vinyl records, were starting a craft brewery, played board games or repaired old motorcycles.”

Melanie Payne of Fort Myers plays Scrabble online but much prefers to sit across the table from her opponent over an old-fashioned board version of the classic word game. Melanie Payne of Fort Myers plays Scrabble online but much prefers to sit across the table from her opponent over an old-fashioned board version of the classic word game. Many also blend analog with digital. For example, fans of playing board games can discover new games and share ideas online on Board Game Geek. And TV actor Will Wheaton has a popular YouTube board game review show called “Tabletop.”

Christina Jordan-Ballis, the owner of Echo Vintage Books & Vinyl Records in Fort Myers, has books and albums stuffed into a 1,900-square-foot space, but she also sells online.

People stepping into her store think they’ve walked into paradise.

“It’s emotion, pure emotion,” she says. “The first thing they do when they walk in, they say, ‘Oh my God, the smells!’ It’s the sensory overload of coming into a place that’s full of nostalgia.”

As a magazine photographer for many years, Spencer Pullen of Port Charlotte used a digital camera. When he wanted to make bigger prints, he went back to the film format. As a magazine photographer for many years, Spencer Pullen of Port Charlotte used a digital camera. When he wanted to make bigger prints, he went back to the film format. For younger generations, however, that sensory overload is brand new — and highly desirable.

Mr. Sax says the driving part of the market for record stores, film photography and board game cafes is not nostalgia, but rather a new generation.

“Many of the biggest consumers driving the revenge of analog … are the most digitally raised generation, people in their 30s, 20s and teens,” the author says. “They’re going this direction in a way no one predicted.”

For them, analog is something novel, a new experience.

“Digital is ubiquitous,” he says. “Everyone walking around today has a smartphone. It’s not new anymore, there’s nothing special about it … It’s like air to them.

When they married, Stephen Johnson, right, and Dave Gilbert combined their record collections. The Bonita Springs residents now have about 8,000 albums. When they married, Stephen Johnson, right, and Dave Gilbert combined their record collections. The Bonita Springs residents now have about 8,000 albums. But analog, he adds, “provides an outlet where they’re about to indulge in a way they can’t with digital, because in digital, everyone has the same stuff.”

Joe Honeycutt, of Joe’s Record Exchange in downtown Fort Myers sees a lot of 20-somethings in his store.’

“They’ve grown up hearing music streamed or maybe on a CD, so an album is a new experience for them, and ind of exciting: the cover and the artwork. And it’s so interactive: you have to become involved with your records, put it on the turntable and take it off.”

A lot of his young customers buy records by older artists, such as Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Prince, The Rolling Stones.

“Established stuff,” he says. “It’s hard to guess what they want on the new side. Some new acts sell really well, and then some don’t.”

What’s old is new again

Sitting across a table playing a board game with another human being is a novelty to millennials too.

The headline of a recent USA Today article by Diana Kruzman read: “The hot new games aren’t on your phone, they’re on the table and require (gasp!) other people.” Sales of board games in the U.S. and Canada grew 21 percent in 2016, she writes, topping $1.4 billion in sales.

And despite the fact that everyone can take photographs with their iPhones, there’s a growing resurgence of interest in film cameras.

The July 24 issue of Time magazine has a two-page story titled “The no-frills, full-fun snapshot is back,” complete with photographs of various new Polaroid cameras. “But even as phones displaced traditional cameras for the majority of amateur photographers, they left something missing: rarely do we print our digital photos anymore,” write Alex Fitzpatrick and Kenneth Bachor. “The cloud is great for storing pictures but can make it difficult to find memories — especially with bountiful storage and the unlimited shots of digital photography.”

The intimacy of longhand

We’re analog beings. We like having all our senses involved. We enjoy interacting with people.

Though we can take notes on our laptops, that doesn’t compare to the physical act of writing on paper for some. Many authors still prefer to write their first draft on paper, before switching to computer, feeling longhand is more intimate.

Mr. Sax writes in his book about how the engineers at Yelp revolted when their whiteboards were taken away. The whiteboards, they said, led to more interactive collaboration than anything digital.

“Designers I spoke to who worked at companies such as Twitter, Dropbox, and Pinterest gushed about the unrivalled superiority of whiteboards, Postit notes and paper to take ideas from the mind into a tangible place … Once the paper designs allowed an idea to evolve into a more concrete state, the process invariably moved to the computer where the design could be refined and tested. But when it made that transition to digital, it was more thought out, and frankly better than a design that began on the computer.”

Google teaches its designers how to sketch, and sketching ideas on paper is now the company’s standard first step in the design process.

“With hand-drawn sketches, even though they appear rough, the focus is on the idea…” Mr. Sax writes.

The tactile experience

For some, use of paper notebooks is a personal preference.

Karen Tolchin, Ph.D., associate professor of English at Florida Gulf Coast University, writes via email: “I use physical day planners and wear a watch, even though my phone could tell time and keep appointments for me. It has to do with a stubborn love of artifacts.

“… I take special pleasure in selecting a new planner every year, especially when I’m in Manhattan and can shop the British luxury brand Smythson. Much as I love my iPhone, it just can’t compete with Smythson’s embossed leather, trademark blue sheets of paper and a gold mechanical pencil. Also, you can’t monogram an iPhone, and everything’s better with a monogram.”

In his book, Mr. Sax writes that physical books — and bookstores — are also making a comeback. Though e-readers offer convenience, many people find they miss the tactile experience of holding a book and are returning to reading physical books.

And while ordering a book online is quick, browsing in an actual bookstore and interacting with clerks has its own charm, he adds. (Even Amazon is opening up bricks-and-mortar stores.)

When he shops online, he says, it’s more efficient, but “I don’t browse in the same way, I don’t get the pleasure.”

Whether it’s books, vinyl records, wrist watches, notebooks or film cameras, it’s obvious people are embracing non-digital things and reviving industries.

“We assumed we wouldn’t care about (many analog things,) but once we did away with them, we realized their value,” says Mr. Sax. “We like it, we enjoy it.”

Even if it’s the simple pleasure of holding a book in our hands.

“We enjoy the bookiness of the book,” he says. “At the end of the day, we believe there’s a value in having something that is a real thing.” ¦

Stephen Hruby

Architect, paper and pen communicator

I use a pad and a pen to take notes at meetings, even though I have my iPad right at my elbow or in my briefcase. I’ll use it to look something up online, but I’m much more facile and quicker at keeping notes with paper and pen. My notes are not in a linear fashion. It’s more organic … not only what I’m hearing at the meeting, but my thoughts about what I’m hearing. I’ll put that on the side: things to think about or research, to jar my memory about something tangentially related to the topic at hand.

I have not tried drawing with a stylus on a touch-screen pad yet. I smile, though, because what that’s doing is taking digital back to the analog age. They’re making screens able to do what I do with a pad and pencil.

I was schooled before computers, when everything had to be rendered and drawn. There’s a drawing skill I think a lot of the younger architects have lost. They’ve lost that art of the hand-drawn, whether it’s pen, ink, pencil. ¦

Melanie Payne

Investigative reporter and Scrabble enthusiast

I prefer playing Scrabble with someone in person … I like the physical-ness of it. And I will remember a new word or a different word if I’ve played it on a regular Scrabble board rather than if I’ve played it online. I belong to a Scrabble club and have taken my niece and nephew (15 and 16) to play, and they really enjoyed it. Technology is so isolating. Scrabble club is interactive; you’re actually dealing with another human being. When kids realize they can do that, they think it’s cool. ¦

Spencer Pullen

Photographer who uses a large-format film camera

Digital technology could not give me the resolution I wanted for the detail I was looking for and at the large size I wanted. So I went on the hunt back to film. I started with 33mm, but that was too small. Then 220 was still too small. The next is 4x5 film, and that was better. But I went with 8x10. They make scanners that will handle 8x10 film, so I can easily make prints 80x100 with my Zone VI camera. It’s the same type camera Ansel Adams used or that Clyde Butcher uses. It’s made out of mahogany and brass and weighs 20 pounds.

I use a film tent as my darkroom. I take the film out of the cassette and put it in the developing drum in the dark. Once the film is developed, I hang it up to dry. From there, people in the past could put it in the enlarger (to make prints). I don’t have access to that. I put it in the scanner and it goes on the computer in a file. I have a large format printer and use archival paper. It’s called the hybrid method because it’s a combination of analog and digital.

When it all comes together in the end, I get a sense of satisfaction that I’m doing something with my hands. I started with a blank sheet of film, and now through this process, I have something I can hang on my wall. ¦

Stephen Johnson

Mixed media artist, record collector

I bought my first albums in 1966: the first Monkees album and the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” album. I bought them on the same day, and I still have both of them. I was always a huge record fan. As far as my income would allow, I would buy records … I have always loved the tactile thing of holding an album, putting it on the turntable and hearing the rich sound from the analog vibrations. But best of all, for me, is to have a 12 by 12-inch piece of art (in the album cover). That’s my huge thing about them. I love having all the artwork in that large format, so you can see it. ¦

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