By all rights, I ought to be one of the most digitally-immersed people out there. After all, I work for NASA with a team of people from around the world. As part of the Air National Guard, I am in near-constant communication with peers and colleagues at multiple locations around the globe. I love tinkering with computers, especially Linux. I have a fully-loaded Amazon Kindle within arm's reach at any point. I have a library of Bible software in the pocket on my phone. To say that I am a bit of a technophile is a mild understatement.
At the same time, I am also a lover of analog--calendering, watches, to-dos, writing, planning, books, just to name a few. The real question, I suppose, is why? Why would I, in the midst of a world and multiple environments that thrive and operate solely in the digital realm, be so enchanted with analog means?
Analog is deliberate. Many times, doing something via analog means requires deliberate intent that doing the same thing on a digital platform may not. I'm not suggesting that analog is harder or more cumbersome than digital, because though it may be either or both of those, it is not necessarily the case at all. It is not truly more difficult to jot down a note in a notebook than it is to open a file and type something into my computer or phone--in fact, there are many times when a notebook is quicker and easier--but given the ubiquity of our devices, using analog requires me to consciously decide to take that route over a digital one. In our society, we are conditioned to reach for something digital first. Choosing analog requires a deliberate, conscious choice where digital may not.
Analog lets me unplug and focus. I appreciate that I can have a library of thousands of books and reference items in my pocket. That is an incredible benefit that even twenty years ago was science fiction. But that accessibility comes with a price--a device that is always vying for my attention. Even with notifications turned off entirely, which on my phone they are with few exceptions, there is still the knowledge that in my pocket or next to me on the desk await a flurry of emails, texts, Tweets, etc. that demand my attention. Unlike many in our always-on culture, I don't struggle with FOMO (fear of missing out) or feel the need to be continually connected to media, but that doesn't mean those with whom I connect electronically feel the same about their expectations from me. My paper notebook makes no such demands. My automatic watch does not tempt me to respond to a text message or other notification. My print book does not allow me to be distracted. These single-purpose items delightfully restrict me to the task at hand and allow (force?) me to concentrate solely on them, not dividing my attention between what I want to do and the attention some other app or person thinks they should receive at the same time.
Analog is tangible and eternal. Digital writing platforms--for example--are great. I'm using one right now to write this and will use another to distribute it around the world. At the same time, despite the advantage of being able to start in one physical location on my work computer, make edits on my phone later, and finish up on my laptop at home, this medium brings along with it the very real possibility of future obsolescence and inaccessibility. How many computer files or games from just a few years ago are essentially lost to unsupported hardware or formats? Anything incredibly important in my life gets recorded on paper because tangible items have stood the test of time. Yes, I need to make copies of my written material if I want to guarantee its safekeeping and plan for data loss through water, fire, etc., but the same is true of digital media as well, though with digital media I have the added burden of needing to plan for file type obsolescence and save in an old (i.e. proven) format or save in multiple formats to increase my chances that I'll be able to read it in the future. With paper, I simply need to make another paper copy. No other future-proofing required. I cannot access the Quattro Pro spreadsheet I used in my 1995 fluid dynamics course because I only have a copy on a 3.5" disc, but I can read my notes from that class which I recorded on paper. This is only one example for which we could all come up with dozens more.
Analog is memorable. Part of the scientifically-proven benefit of analog writing is that the very act of writing makes content memorable. I can quickly create a grocery list on my computer using a software app of my choice, but I guarantee I will need to reference that app to see what I need to buy while I'm at the store. By writing the same list down, taking a few more seconds to put it on paper, the odds are much greater that I will remember it and only need the list for reference. Surely this is a trivial example, but the principle holds for anything we write down: meeting notes, quotes, definitions, car specs, etc. The very act of writing something down commits it to memory in ways that typing cannot. The Field Notes tagline is pithy but right on target: "I’m not writing it down to remember it later,I’m writing it down to remember it now." In our world of information overload and instant accessibility, we tend to emphasize the power to find data quickly and minimize information retention. This is a mistake. I see in our school-aged children the societal trend of equating the ability to search and find information with knowing or learning about something. The two are not the same nor should we view them as such. Just because I can find an answer online about a given subject does not mean that I am knowledgeable about that subject. It simply means I am good at internet searching. Search and find does not equal knowledge.
Analog is enjoyable. This final point is entirely subjective. I find writing by hand insanely gratifying and enjoyable. The flow of ink or the smooth glide of graphite onto a page is pleasing. Watching the movement in an automatic watch count seconds and minutes is enchanting. The feel and smell of an old book adds sensory experiences to reading that no Kindle can duplicate. Crossing off items on my to-do list is satisfying. Digital is fun, don't get me wrong. But ultimately electrons are fleeting and fail to connect with the psyche in the same fulfilling way that analog devices have done for thousands of years and will continue to do into the future. I'm grateful for my smartphone, but after having one for a number of years, I'd gladly trade it for a dumber phone, a nice pen, and some books.
Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash