Today’s counter-culture Millennials increasingly turn off, tune in, and go analog, says author

In new book, David Sax reports on comeback of real things and explains why it matters to people of all ages

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

'The Revenge of Analog' author David Sax (Christopher Farber)
'The Revenge of Analog' author David Sax (Christopher Farber)

When author David Sax held his newly published book for the first time, it made him very happy. The weight of the tome in his hand signified to him that the fruits of his labor were tangible, that they existed in the real world.

He wouldn’t have felt that way had the book only existed in digital form. It’s just not the same thing.

It’s apropos then that Sax’s book is titled, “The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter.”

Sax is by no means a Luddite. However, he came to realize that there were many people out there like him who were falling in love all over again with analog. Or — as in the case of Millennials and younger — who were discovering it for the first time.

With a mix of first person anecdotes, engaging first-hand reporting, and extensive research, Sax draws readers into the resurgent world of analog, from music lovers who have begun collecting vinyl records again, to creative types who write their ideas in Moleskine notebooks, to people of all ages playing Settlers of Catan and Exploding Kittens in specialized board game cafes for hours on end.

Board game players. Board game players. (Matěj Baťha CC BY-SA 3.0)

And we can’t forget to mention the Lomography film photographers, and even a couple of Italian guys who are (perhaps foolhardily) trying to resurrect the once-famous, mothballed FILM Ferrania factory and company.

The 37-year-old author goes beyond analog objects in the second half of the book to explore analog concepts and ideas which have either made a comeback, or have never really gone away. While this section is primarily about business and economics, it is just as accessible as the first half of the book.

Sax, like everyone else, was convinced at the turn of the century that print was going to go the way of the dinosaur.

“Since I began writing professionally in 2002, the specter of print’s death at the hands of digital has been so consistently present, that I came to accept that truth as the natural order. Working in printed media (books, magazines, and newspapers) feels similar to life in a rustbelt city, where you take comfort in the past’s fading glory, as the world contracts around you,” he wrote.

Low and behold, however, print has not disappeared. In fact, in certain areas it is growing. Readers have not abandoned printed newspapers and magazines, and people still prefer printed books to an e-books and audiobooks. Some new print publications were even spawned from ones that were initially online only (the Jewish publication Tablet a case in point).

Bookstore. (Olybrius CC BY-SA 3.0)
Bookstore. (Olybrius CC BY-SA 3.0)

The author also looks at retail, work, school, and summer camp as other areas where digital is not always welcome and has far from triumphed.

He even dedicates a chapter about how analog has a significant place in Silicon Valley, the world’s epicenter for all things digital. At Adobe, Project Breathe has workers meeting to meditate. Yelp employees mutinied after management considered removing whiteboards from their offices. Facebook has an Analog Research Laboratory where workers “make stuff” the old-fashioned way. Jeff Bezos at Amazon structures his executive team meetings around a six-page narrative memo he makes everyone read at the beginning of the meeting — no PowerPoint presentations allowed.

Readers of Sax’s earlier books, “Save the Deli” (about the Jewish delicatessen business) and “The Tastemakers” (about food trends), may be surprised that while this new one provides excellent food for thought, there is no mention of real comestibles.

“It was never my intention to become a food writer. And actually, the idea for this book came to me as far back as when I was working on ‘Save the Deli’ a decade ago,” Sax recently told The Times of Israel from his home in Toronto.

In April 2007, after attending Reboot, a summit for young Jewish creative leaders, Sax began to acknowledge how tied into digital technology he had become. At the summit, all attendees were required to “unplug” for Shabbat. Once home, he continued to refrain from using all things digital on the Jewish day of rest, finding it liberating and also an opportunity to interact with analog technology again.

Lomography Fisheye camera. (Romary CC BY 2.5)
Lomography Fisheye camera. (Romary CC BY 2.5)

As time went on, he also started to notice that he and his wife were the only ones not texting and messaging on their smartphones during meals with friends and family.

“Underlying this resurgence of analog that I have written about is the fact that the tools of digital connection have made us less connected in the most important ways. There is a deep-seated desire to connect and an angst about the world and our communities,” Sax said.

‘There is a deep-seated desire to connect and an angst about the world and our communities’

The author pointed to how every aspect of the Jewish experience has been digitized. However, he warns against over-reliance on apps and virtual prayer quorums.

“We are strongest as a community when we gather together. There is a very real reason behind the requirement to have a minyan,” he said. “We are a genetically linked group, but our physical proximity is what keeps us strong and growing.”

As a young parent, Sax is highly aware of how family life can be overcome by all things digital. He understands the tendency to see an upside in giving young children technology, but he emphasized in his book that studies and experience have shown that there is not always a lasting benefit, and that the technology can even be damaging.

Sax, for one, will not be giving his young daughter an iPad, nor will he sign her up for a preschool where the students are given iPads to use.

'The Revenge of Analog' by David Sax (PublicAffairs)
‘The Revenge of Analog’ by David Sax (PublicAffairs)

“I read to my daughter out of books. Books are her favorite thing,” he shared.

When he first started working on “The Revenge of Analog,” Sax was worried that the the growing interest he perceived among people in physical, tangible things like vinyl records, printed books and film cameras would turn out to just be a blip. He has taken comfort in discovering that the interest hasn’t waned over the last decade, but rather that an increasing segment of society sees the value in analog.

Notwithstanding his passion for analog (including Detroit-produced Shinola watches, to which he dedicates a considerable number of pages), Sax is quick to emphasize that he doesn’t expect — nor want — the clock to be turned back on digital.

He warns against falling into a false digital-analog dichotomy. But we can’t ignore that digital is omnipresent, and no matter where we are in the world, the newness of digital wears off. It’s at that point that we have to examine what is really working for us — or not — in terms of our experiences and values.

Poignantly, it’s younger people who are driving the revenge of analog. For them, it’s not a matter of nostalgia, because they have never lived in an age before the personal computer, internet and smartphones. For them, digital is default.

Millennials and teenagers have no expectation that the digital world will be rolled back. So, they are looking to analog to help them to stand out from the crowd driven relentlessly by zeroes and ones.

“They are turning to analog to define their individual sense of identity,” Sax said.

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