via @heleoworld

“That consistent narrative of disruption, especially for a generation that’s grown up with it as the norm, leaves us wanting something to hold onto.“

David Sax is a writer and reporter whose work has appeared in Vanity FairThe New YorkerBloomberg Businessweek, and more. His most recent book, The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter, investigates why, in a world where digital was supposed to make clunky physical objects obsolete, we’re seeing vinyl, tabletop games, film photography and more make a comeback. In this conversation with Heleo’s Assistant Editor Mandy Godwin, he contends that there’s real value to the physical that is set to return in unexpected ways.

This conversation has been edited and condensed. 

Mandy: Your book is called The Revenge of Analog. In this very digital world, where are you seeing analog take its revenge the most?

David: In two areas. One is analog consumer goods, especially cultural goods, that were displaced two decades ago or more by faster, less expensive, if not even free, digital technologies. These are things like vinyl records, even in some cases cassette tapes, film photography, board games, tabletop games, paper writing materials, greeting cards. These are almost the shorthand of digital disruption when we think about the changing pace of technology.

The other, less apparent area is within industries and businesses where analog isn’t so much a thing but an approach, a methodology or a way of working within an organization that might be very digitally connected. That’s the broader definition.

Mandy: What you’re getting at, too, is that the assumptions that underlie the evangelism of digital technology have to do with almost privileging efficiency, productivity, or quantifiable things over relationships and non-quantifiable things like feelings—the feeling you get when you turn on the record. Can it be accurately summed up as saying non-quantifiable things are making a comeback, as well?

David: I think that’s a great summation of it. The promise of what digital tech can do for an industry or product is standardize it exponentially, and infinitely increase its access and the ability to grow it at scale. But what’s sacrificed are the very human, real-world analog inefficiencies that, at first, appear as though they are detriments, expenses, and costs.

Once this digital technology is adopted on a wide scale, you see that there are actually benefits to it that may not have been realized in the search for a quicker, less expensive digital solution.

Mandy: [You don’t] make the distinction between “this is real” and “this is not real” [although we] hear that all the time—there was that big New York magazine piece about how digital technology is ruining our lives. A lot of the arguments against it frame it as, “Oh, you’re on social media? All that isn’t real.” What caused you to choose “analog” instead of this real/not real distinction?

David: It’s funny because the subtitle of the book is Real Things and Why They Matter, which was the suggestion of the publisher. Yet it’s something that I struggled with because it frames it in such a stark, binary way. I do think that there is a gravity, a consequence, a trust, and a value in the non-digital that doesn’t exist in the world of digital in the same way, because it’s so inexpensive and ubiquitous—you can copy and paste and there it is. There’s no cost to it.

“In a world of so much intangible stuff, where the cost to post on Facebook is the exact same for a fake news site as it is for a real one and therefore presents an equal playing field, the tangible things have an increased value.”

Most of us now get our day-to-day news on social media or on the web. That’s real, but the tangible aspect of a physical copy of the New York Times or New Yorkmagazine or the Washington Post, because it is created and printed in the real world and there is a cost associated with that, the money behind that guarantees a certain standard of quality in reporting. (I mean, there’s [also] National Enquirer, so it doesn’t necessarily mean anything).

In a world of so much intangible stuff, where the cost to post on Facebook is the exact same for a fake news site as it is for a real one and therefore presents an equal playing field, the tangible things have an increased value. Which is counter to what we’ve been told, which is, “Oh, all this stuff’s worthless; the only thing that matters is digital.” That’s a narrative that I’m trying to present an alternative to. The more digital some area of our life becomes, initially the value of analog might seem to decrease. CDs came out in 1984. In ’85, people got rid of their entire vinyl collections. You could buy all these amazing records for a dollar at a garage sale.

Then all of a sudden CDs are gone, there’s no more physical music, and you don’t have to pay for music. You don’t even have to pay for digital downloads, and you get streaming for free. Suddenly those same dollar bin records are selling for $20 or more because it’s something you can hold onto. The value of it changes and becomes apparent in a very different way.

(read the complete interview here)