Analog is better

2019-07-27 @Technology

In a brief exchange concerning film photography, the barista had expressed this exact comment. I immediately agreed with a hint of enthusiasm. Analog is better. I could not have stated this in a more contrived manner myself.

It was a contrived statement of the sort that can rapidly discredit the speaker, if not for the subtle awareness of context. But we had reached that mutual awareness. The context enabled cheap contrived statements to be stated, oratory credibility secure, demeanor - casually anti-digital.

And why not? Analog is better. Is that not as clear as sky?

The amateur photographer of a barista exercised film development in a spare bathroom - one of those real estatutory elements one doesn’t commonly spare. I imagined the infra-red inflorescence, negatives extending along the shower liner like old soiled undergarments. A similarly pleasurable and pretentious user experience I deemed it, among textile processing, wood working, circuit board etching, pottery, herb domestication, or oil painting.

It was strictly black and white photography he practiced. Someone of that camp appreciates the little nuances. A B&W film photographer doesn’t squander film to satiate the never-ending lust for mountain range silhouettes, bushy tree tops, canopies of Greco-Roman constructions, selfies and groupies.

The latter class of photography I don’t much lust. That is to say, at all. With digital photography in general, I tread on indifference. With analog, on the other hand, my indifference transcends but slightly into the territory of playful flirtation - all by virtue of the user experience - the analog user experience.

I find a similar sort of appreciation in a vinyl record hobby, in spite of lack of intent to cultivate one. It is in the imperfections that I prefer the sound. In the scratches, when bounded to a certain limit. In the interaction with the LP player. In the care one takes to wield the needle, maintain the record in pristine condition, extract and reinsert into the extensive, provocative envelope with love. Those nuances further embellish the sound. After all, one has to work for the music as one works towards the analog photographic output. The meal tastes better after strenuous exercise. The coffee tastes better when actively invested in the brewing. One doesn’t take it for granted.

I prefer my coffee analog. And I prefer music with scratching or radio interference. Not too much, but not too little. It can require finesse to balance the FM radio receiver in an ambience of electromagnetic interference, achieving sound of just the striking balance of music and noise.

A curious aspect this is, considering the digital source of music transmitted by analog means. We truly are odd creatures.

I don’t have much commentary on compact disks, even though I identified much nostalgia in them the prior year (but not the year before.) Tapes, however, fascinate and repulse me a little. But mostly fascinate. They eradicate all artistic sensibility found in LPs, yes. The small plastic casing entirely compromises that element, insofar as one might compare an instant Polaroid with a black and white bathroom-soaked negative. The tape is fragile. So are the tape player mechanics. At least more than any other analog medium I’ve here mentioned. But the topping lies not in their fragility, for the sensual analog sound still seconds the LPs and pleases the ears, at least mine. No, the topping lies in the sequential access. I guess with music this has merit. The tape fosters the listening of entire albums. None of the skipped or pseudo-random listening characteristic of CDs, digital players, or internet radio. Sometimes we can be too random for our own good. Is that right? No, imprecise. Be hopelessly random, but on a macro level. Be sequential on the micro.

Naturally, I prefer my reading analog. I prefer the smell of tobacco, coffee stains and the unsolicited markings found in the second-hand edition pages. They are largely resilient to serious damage these paperbacks, demand no electricity to engage, no computer or internet to populate with content. They exhibit evocative covers as the LPs, without the fragility or equipment cost. They initiate conversations, and sometimes finish them too.

I was already sold, when Nassim Nicolas Taleb related another curious point. In reading printed materials, we better assimilate the information. We associate the experience with the paper. We more effectively consume the content. It sounds plausible. But to what extent? It probably depends on a range of reading factors.

Now that I’ve introduced incontestable empirical evidence in favor of analog, we must sometimes interact with the ones or with the zeros. Personally, I prefer a unary system. It also renders problems of pseudo-polynomial computational complexity purely polynomial. Alas, I cannot expect universal appeal in the idea of machine storage to mimic our finger counting.

If digital it must be, at least opt for simple digital, with less dependencies or trappings. Plain text over complex text. Markup over encoded or proprietary. Local MP3 storage over streaming radio platforms. Email over needless CMS communications or closed messengers. Internet Relay Chat over Facebook chat. Open client-oblivious protocols over closed application suites. Decentralized over centralized. A colon/parentheses duo over an emoticon.

When in doubt, shop analog.

Questions, comments? Connect.