Print is dead. Vinyl is dead. It’s all about digital.
Yadda, yadda, yadda. The moment a potential successor gains traction, its forerunner is “dead.”. The thing is, these obsolete tools and formats aren’t dead – they’re just waiting quietly outside the mainstream consciousness for the right time to re-emerge.
In David Sax’s The Revenge of Analog, the Toronto-based writer explores the unstoppable, and frankly fascinating, return of analog “things and ideas” in both pop culture and the digital economy.
Digging in the crates
But digital is so convenient, so accessible, so … accurate. Why on earth would anyone return to analog?
This is the question that drives Sax’s journey, and one that quite fittingly begins in a newly opened record store less than two blocks from his home in the Little Italy section of Toronto. It’s here that Sax rediscovers his love of the physical album, but also discovers that the vinyl format is anything but dead—in fact, it’s enjoying something of a renaissance.
Over three million vinyl records were sold in 2016, and it’s not just nostalgic baby boomers buying them. It’s digital natives, the very same people who grew up with free access to the world’s music at the click of a mouse; they’re the ones dropping $20 apiece on Public Enemy and Radiohead reissues.
As Sax goes on to explain, this is the precursor (and catalyst) for a wider shift in analog use.
Notebooks and Post-Its
Corporate America has fallen back in love with analog.
At Google, Adobe and Facebook, Sax paints their offices as analog havens with employees who harbor “a personal passion for analog things.”
At Adobe, Sax discovers “Project Breathe”—a daily 15-minute meditation session offered globally to help workers unplug. What started in San Francisco as a friendly diversion for project manager Scott Unterberg ultimately became through word of mouth a global “life raft amid a sea of deadlines, iterations, and expectations.”
While meditation in corporate offices is by no means groundbreaking, the success of these sessions ultimately changed the way the company built software. Coders and designers had become used to doing everything digitally, but Project Breathe allows them to go from “reacting to information to quietly processing it,” leading to higher levels of productivity with better work and ideas.
“They are the most advanced, progressive corporations in the world. They are not embracing analog because it is cool. They do it because analog provides the most efficient, productive way to conduct business. They embrace analog to give them a competitive advantage.”
Whiteboards on wheels? Yelp!
At Yelp, Sax finds a workplace firmly rooted in analog. Whiteboards adorn everything from walls to the back of laptop screens… and if you’re thinking “surely, one of the leading technology companies in the world could afford the latest digital smart boards,” you’re not alone.
When the office was designed, large digital displays were installed—but the engineers revolted, threatening to walk if they didn’t get to keep their whiteboards.
Talking to director of facilities and real estate John Lieu, Yelp’s reasoning becomes clear: “If it’s all computer based, are you really collaborating… I mean collaborating emotionally and physically?”
The notion of analog communication can also be felt in the way corporations conduct meetings. At Percolate, we discover all digital devices are banned from meeting rooms (a decision which has led to shorter and “more useful” meetings).
At Google, Sax introduces us to John Skidgel, a user experience designer who dragged other UX designers away from their PCs and back to their sketchbooks. Having previously worked at Adobe and YouTube, he’d long pressed the value of sketching designs physically before jumping into illustration software.
When Skidgel joined Google, designers were taking initial ideas straight to digital –ultimately wasting hours messing around with shades, fonts, and “utterly pointless details” that offer no benefit.
Despite some skepticism, he converted the team, asking them “if they found themselves in the elevator with Google’s founder Larry Page,” how would they present an idea? They’d sketch the idea on a scrap of paper, of course – not boot a laptop, because “with hand-drawn sketches, even though they appear rough, the focus is on the idea and it can be adapted in seconds.”
Not for Luddites
This book isn’t nostalgia fuel for Luddites. We’re analog creatures, and we crave analog experiences – and as Sax demonstrates, it’s the digital disruptors who understand this best: “They are the most advanced, progressive corporations in the world. They are not embracing analog because it is cool. They do it because analog provides the most efficient, productive way to conduct business. They embrace analog to give them a competitive advantage.”
And as Ben Barry, the founder of The Analog Research Laboratory on Facebook’s Palo Alto campus will tell you, pushing a purely digital agenda will only stifle productivity. Human beings need physical limitations to drive creativity; digital is great, but if you really want to progress you need to look to the past.
A fascinating, relatable, and ultimately human read, The Revenge of Analog will help you become re-accustomed with a world we almost lost to 1s and 0s.Back to all blog posts