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 - an amenity one doesn’t commonly spare. I imagined the infra-red inflorescence, negatives extending along the shower liner like old soiled undergarments. I deemed it a similarly pleasurable and pretentious user experience 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. Is that an accurate statement?

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 slightly into the territory of playful flirtation - all by virtue of the 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 exercises to wield the needle, maintain the record in pristine condition, extract and reinsert into the provocative envelope, with love.

The nuances further embellish the sound. After all, one has to work for the music as one does for the analog photographic output.

Likewise, the meal tastes better after strenuous exercise. The coffee tastes better once actively invested in the brewing. One is less likely to take the experience for granted.

And I prefer my coffee analog like I prefer music with screeching or radio interference: not too strong, not too mild. 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.

One need also suspend a portion of disbelief: in all likelihood, it is a digital source of music we hear transmitted by analog means. Out of a hundred disk jockeys, how many spin vinyl nowadays?

Regarding compact disks, I don’t offer much commentary, even though I identified much nostalgia in them the prior year (but not the year before.) Tapes, however, fascinate and repulse me … But mostly fascinate.

Tapes surely eradicate much artistic sensibility found in LPs. 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 sensual analog sound of a tape, though inferior to compact disks or vinyl, still pleases the ear, at least mine.

The tape is fragile, and so are the tape player mechanics - more than any analog medium I’ve covered. The vinyl player, though the numerous mechanical components might also appear such, with proper care and the greater modularity of components, generally outlives.

But the topping lies not in the tape fragility, nor the sound, but in the sequential access. I guess with music this has merit. The tape encourages the listening of entire albums - none of the skipped or pseudo-random listening characteristic of CDs, digital players, or internet radio. Or at least the tape renders the urge to hop around more annoying and patience demanding.

Sometimes we can be too random for our own good. Is that right? No, imprecise: be hopelessly random, but on a macro level; on the macro, opt for the sequential.

I definitely prefer my reading analog: the smell of tobacco, the coffee stains, the unsolicited markings dispersed throughout the second-hand editions. These paperbacks are largely resilient to serious damage, demand no electricity to engage, no computer or internet to populate. As the vinyls, they exhibit evocative covers, without the fragility or equipment cost. They initiate conversations. Sometimes, they also end them.

Though already sold, Nassim Nicolas Taleb relates 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 evidence in favor of analog, we must sometimes interact with the ones, or with the zeros. Personally, I prefer the unary system. It 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, markup over encoded or proprietary, local MP3 storage over streaming radio platforms, email over needless CMS communications or proprietary messengers, Internet Relay Chat or XMPP over Facebook chat, open/client-oblivious protocols over closed application suites, decentralized over centralized, a text smiley over an emoticon.

When in doubt, shop analog.

Questions, comments? Connect.