Photo credit: Christopher Farber
One of the best things about writing The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter
is it was basically one big, tax-deductible excuse to acquire some very cool things. After all, if I didn’t practice the analog gospel I preached, what kind of evangelist for the benefits and pleasures of a tactile world of objects and ideas would I be? Over the course of the two years I worked on the book, I managed to amass a decent collection of tools, souvenirs, and other analog treasures that now seem indispensable and say a lot about why analog resonates with people today, even though the digital alternative might be easier and cheaper. These artifacts are the physical history of The Revenge of Analog
and will endure, like the bound pages of the book, long after its release date.
The idea for this book was born from a renewed interest in vinyl records, and it remains the single best excuse I have for continually buying more music. The vinyl revival of the past decade was the logical starting point for tackling the broader revenge of analog. Records, and record stores, had been consigned to the dustbin of history for many years. It was only a matter of time before they simply ceased to exist. But starting in 2007, records staged a tremendous comeback, with sales of new and used records growing steadily each year since and showing no sign of slowing down yet. I spent a week in Nashville diving into the reasons behind this and picked up a whole box of records from the great stores around town, as well as directly from United Record Pressing, the country’s largest pressing plant. But it’s the self-titled debut album from local band Promised Land Sound that stands out from that haul, because I purchased it directly from the band after a show at a bar, where their wah-wah-heavy, Byrds-inflected Southern rock was like an analog lightning bolt firing through my soul.
Paper was the first technology truly challenged by digital, and yet today we value many paper objects vastly more than we did before the computer came along. One of these is the notebook, which gained a new cultural cachet with the debut of the Moleskine journal in 1997. As much as the smartphone, the Moleskine, and its various imitators, offshoots, and competitors, has come to define the digitally obsessed creative economy today. You’d be hard-pressed to walk into a coffee shop in any city or town without seeing them splayed open on tables, recording ideas both brilliant and banal, with technology (paper and ink) that may not be new but remains deliciously disruptive. While I love to write in Moleskines and own about a dozen battered ones, I ended up ordering custom notebooks from a company in Toronto called Ecojot. They’re 3 x 5 inches, with a firm cover, thick lined pages, and a big spiral spine. This lets me stand and take notes with one hand, which I often have to do while interviewing someone in a store or a factory, and then easily flip through the notes back home when I’m writing.
The pen really does beat the sword. In the chapter on education and analog’s enduring strength in teaching us life’s essential skills, I came across endless studies on the cognitive benefits of handwriting, drawing, and other interactions between pen and paper. I have atrocious, barely legible handwriting, but I’ve always preferred to take notes and record interviews by hand, not so much for accuracy but because it allows the conversation to proceed more naturally. Once you put a screen between yourself and another person, they stiffen up and become much more aware of what they’re saying. A pen and paper is disarming, and I can doodle, squiggle, and communicate ideas with the flick of the wrist much easier than with any software. My pen of choice is the Zebra-F402. It is a cheap and comfortable refillable ballpoint pen, with two things I love: an all-metal body that looks more distinguished than any plastic equivalent, and a really sturdy clicking action that is pure stress relief.
For the chapter on the revenge of film, I ended up in Vienna, interviewing some of the figures driving the modern renaissance of analog photography. Once I started looking at these cameras and holding them in my hand, I had to own one. Florian “Doc” Kaps, who founded the Impossible Project, which makes film for Polaroid cameras after Polaroid stopped producing it, took me to the most incredible camera shop in the world, called Westlicht. It’s run by Peter Coeln, a former fashion photographer and dealer of vintage cameras and film photographs, and is attached to a gorgeous gallery. I already had an old Polaroid camera that I now use with Impossible Project film, but Kaps suggested I buy a Rollei 35, which is a compact, fully manual 35mm film camera. I’ve become somewhat obsessed with it, even if the light meter frequently conks out and half the pictures are out of focus. I love the challenge of it, the mystery of taking a photo that may or may not turn out, and that forgotten thrill of receiving an envelope of printed photos back from the lab, opening it up, and holding those memories in your hand, instead of just losing them in your hard drive.
For the chapter on the revenge of brick-and-mortar retail, I focused on new and growing independent bookstores in New York. After decades of losses due to big-box and online competition, it’s so great to see independent bookstores like Powell's growing again across America. Bookstores are the best of retail. More than simply a place to buy goods, they are the intellectual hub of our communities, and a space where ideas are displayed, exchanged, and sold with heart, soul, and no small degree of serendipity. The store I spent the most time at was Book Culture, which had just opened its third location, on the Upper West Side. Its co-owner Chris Doeblin is as fearless and passionate an advocate for the good of books and bookstores as I have ever found, and the wonderful staff there helped place two books in my hands that remain central to my life today. The Glass Cage
by Nicholas Carr is a tremendous work of journalism that chronicles the downside of an overreliance on digital automation, and it shaped a lot of my thinking around the value of analog work in today’s economy. The Lonely Typewriter
by Peter Ackerman and Max Dalton is a wonderful picture book about a child forced to write a report on his mother’s old typewriter when his computer breaks. Basically, it’s a Revenge of Analog
nighttime story for my daughter, who now wants a typewriter.
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is a journalist specializing in business and culture. His writing appears regularly in Bloomberg Businessweek
and the New Yorker
's Currency blog. He is the author of The Tastemakers: A Celebrity Rice Farmer, a Food Truck Lobbyist, and Other Innovators Putting Food Trends on Your Plate
; Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen
, which won a James Beard Award for Writing and Literature; and The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter
. He lives in Toronto.