Reader’s Notebook, 6/15/17

The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter – David Sax.
I generally think whether astrology and people’s birth signs determine their personalities are both bullshit. However, as a Gemini, I’m often surprised about how much of who I am is about balancing two seemingly different emotions, interests, etc.

Take me and gadgets, for example. I love new, high-tech toys. I’m fortunate that I am in a position to purchase the latest shiny electronics on a regular basis. At the same time, I love old-school, vintage items that are from before the days when everything had a microprocessor in it. I wear an analog watch, not an Apple Watch. When selecting a camera system, although I bought one that is full of the latest tech, my Fujifilm camera can fool you into thinking it is a film camera from 30 years ago based on its manual dials and overall look. Hell, I get frustrated when the volume knob in my car spins freely rather than having hard stops at both the minimum and maximum levels as a mechanical controller would have.

So this book seemed right up my alley. In it Sax first examines the fairly recent phenomena of folks getting more interested in “analog” gear, including Moleskine notebooks, vinyl records, mechanical watches, or a general revival of bookstores. He argues that people form stronger emotional attachments with analog gear, and that they offer a wider range of experience than digital items.

He goes beyond simply looking at consumer products and also examines how analog gear is changing society. Board game cafes give people opportunities for face-to-face interactions, and thus create community, in a way that playing games online can not. Same with bookstores, which create a space for like-minded folks to come together. The Shinola watch factory in Detroit is both putting land that had fallen into disrepair after that city’s economic collapse to good use, and training people who would otherwise be unemployed to work in skilled positions. The digital economy, he says, is all about code and support. The need for labor is minimal, and often requires advanced education on the front end and can be outsourced on the backend. Making watches – and now high end leather goods – in Detroit creates jobs that will linger over time.

Surprisingly, Sax found that the demographic most drawn to the analog wave are not nostalgic Gen Xers who long for the mechanical products of our youth, but rather Millennials who came of age totally in the high-tech era. This generation grew up knowing nothing than the longing for the next big update that makes last year’s exciting gadget obsolete. Going analog allows them to slow down and focus on utility rather than the fashion of the device.

I would say not all of that rings entirely consistent to me. I love my gadgets, and we all know plenty of people who may get a new iPhone ever single year, but use and love the hell out of it in those 12 months. And the argument that the latest and greatest tech product is all about status can certainly be said of those who have a drawer full of mechanical watches.

I don’t know that I was able to draw any great conclusions about my life from Sax’s book. I think I’ll always strike a balance between analog and digital. And I know I’ve lusted just as hard over each side of the spectrum when I’ve had some cash burning a hole in my pocket. To me the ultimate point is use what works for you, regardless of if it is digital, analog, trendy, or antiquated.