Saturday, February 21, 2015

Is neo-analog the new neo-classical?

My friend posted the following article, which notes that 30% of photographers using actual film are younger than 35. He included the interesting proposition that our generation, and those that come after, might be able to revive newspaper and book sales with our nostalgia-trending dollars.

I whole-heartedly support this concept, and can even see a glimmer of a future where this comes to pass, not just because of 懷舊, but because these media offer a distinct and valuable experience that grounds what we encounter every day.

The goal of young people is not to stop progress and revert back to older, inefficient ways of doing things. We are, after all, not Luddites. At the same time, we are not so enamored with digital, nor as impressed by it as our elders might be. Folks our age rarely go "Wow!" when looking at a web offering. More often, the response is, "That's a great use of this tool. I knew someone would be capable of pulling it together—how awesome!"

Growing up digital, having things available online is run-of-the-mill. (Yawn!) We have expectations for computing services, and at the end of the day, they are simply the basic implements we believe ought be there. Air, check. Water, check. Wi-fi, check. In contrast, print is nostalgic, charming, and most significantly, tangible.

Cameras, wood instruments, printed books; we are reconstituting interactivity by re-acquiring the tools of creation, or by finding new means of consumption, paired with imagination. It offers an interactive experience (as digital does), but also serves a method of reconnecting with the physical world.

It is not simply the novelty of surrounding oneself with old objects—though there is pleasure in that too—but we are not hoarders of antiques. Objects do not qualify simply due to their age, if they are inutile. They must be tools of creation, or agents and products actively linked to a process that is ongoing today—something living, generative, still alive.

Why could this movement succeed? It's about pleasure, not work. We don't expect of the analog the same things we ask for in our workaday computer tools. Instead, books and newspapers recall another kind of culture, representing different times, ethos, and experiences. They are a welcome and enjoyable respite, as we otherwise stream through lives defined by 0101010.

What makes analog work?

  • interactive, not passive, experience
  • physical element
  • taps into imagination/creativity: tools of creation (or at least the product of such)

Two other questions I'm pondering

It's not a wholesale return to older forms. We do want old things, but we want old things that work better than old things. Moreover, I'll wager that we want old things that seem old, but that still fit into a digital ecosystem. Real Instagram cameras. Better fixie bikes. Instantly updating print newspapers. Cue steampunk.

My only question is if we odd hybrid children—of the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s—are filling a unique gap. Will children born completely in the digital age have the same desire to navigate back to the past? Or is it only because our generation is a bridge, having had analog toys in childhood and only acquiring tablets and smartphones in our adolescence. Perhaps new 21st century children still will seek out the analog, if the experience is at all like being released into nature after being cooped up in a city all one's life: it's deeply resonant because it serves a human need.

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