You’re reading this on a screen… but do your eyes feel a sense of relief whenever they encounter words on a printed page? You may have moments of near-ecstasy listening to streaming music… but do you feel curious every time you walk past that neighbourhood shop that sells vinyl records? Texting may be like breathing to you and your phone may be an atlas of your brain… but does the journal section of your local bookstore call out to you?
If you have an undefined ache for experiences that aren’t conveyed by pixels, then David Sax’s recent book “The Revenge of Analog” is for you. It’s a brilliant overview of a renewed interest in the tangible phenomena that many expected the digital world to replace. Reading it could transform the way you live your life.
The introduction begins with Sax visiting a record store and walking out with an Aretha Franklin album on vinyl, the first step in a new relationship with music. I was instantly hooked.
The book then falls into two halves. The first, The Revenge of Analog Things, consists of chapters on vinyl, paper, film and board games. The second, The Revenge of Analog Ideas, consists of chapters on print, retail, work, school and finally a chapter called The Revenge of Analog, in Digital, which is about how even in Silicon Valley there’s a profound emphasis on the non-digital. I won’t spoil the surprise of what the book’s Epilogue, The Revenge of Summer is about, but I’ll let you know in advance that it’s an intensely moving summary of the book’s theme.
What makes reading “The Revenge of Analog” so compelling is that it’s not just a recounting of facts and statistics. Sax acts as a tour guide, taking you to the places where the revenge of analog is in full force. He takes you to Nashville to explore United Record Pressing, a plant that makes vinyl records, where business is booming. He takes you to Milan to discover the origins of Moleskine notebooks. He takes you to a Toronto board game café, where people are enjoying the thrill of interacting without screens to mediate. He takes you to many other places and better yet, introduces you to the fascinating entrepreneurs and visionaries who are driving this new movement.
This book resonated for me in a deeply personal way. I’ve spent my career thus far aiming to create experiences on screens that are so engrossing people keep coming back for more. At the same time, I’ve watched favourite magazines shrink with dwindling ad pages and beloved bookstores vanish entirely. I’ve often felt uneasy that my occupation was driving things I love out of existence, while remaining too committed to the joy of digital to ever turn back. “The Revenge of Analog”, celebrating the newfound life in the tactile things and experiences that once seemed on the verge of extinction, was a heartening read.
If there was a weak spot in the book for me, it was the chapter The Revenge of Work. It focuses on Shinola, a company in Detroit that makes luxury watches and other products, employing workers in a city that has been hurting for so long. While it’s a success story that may be a harbinger of many other companies to come that will also create analog goods with local labour (and Sax does refer to the existence of other new manufacturing companies employing people in Detroit), in a chapter with such a sweeping title I wanted to hear more stories like this one. Instead, the chapter’s critique of the glamour of tech companies and description of how few people they actually employ left me with more questions about the future of work than answers.
The word “revenge” in the book’s title and every chapter title is no doubt too strong. What Sax describes throughout the book is more of a reconfiguration and it’s captured in one of the book’s epigraphs, a 1964 quote from Marshall McLuhan:
A new medium is never an addition to an old one, nor does it leave the old one in peace. It never ceases to oppress the older media until it finds new shapes and positions for them.
These new shapes and positions are exactly what “The Revenge of Analog” is about.
The book isn’t a nostalgic call for a return to an idealized past, just a clear-eyed description of where we are now that hints at where we could go next.
Sax would be pleased to know that I read his book in physical form and I purchased it a bricks and mortar store. I avidly circled page numbers and underlined passages. While reading it I listened repeatedly to a vinyl record, Roxy Music’s “Avalon”. The title track was playing while I was on the final page of the epilogue.
Curiously though, I bought the album recently while on the way to a User Interface Design course. My personal project in the course? Designing a responsive website for a record store.
We’re all hybrid people now, positioned on the spectrum between analog and digital. If you want to understand where you are on that spectrum and where you would like to be (or you just want to get swept away by the stories of an excellent reporter), “The Revenge of Analog” is essential reading.
The Revenge of Analog, by David Sax
Have you read The Revenge of Analog? Please feel free to share your comments below.