Moving Beyond Technology

By Scott Keith

I recently finished reading The Revenge of the Analog – Real Things and Why They Matter by David Sax. All in all, it was not a bad book. Sax is not so much making an argument in his book as he is acting as a reporter laying out the facts of what is happening and perhaps why.

What is happening, according to Sax, is that analog is making a comeback. In this instance, “analog” means anything, especially any consumer item, which is not digital. Vinyl records, paper notebooks, real books made with paper, and pens with real ink in them are all “analog.” His book notes a resurgence in our collective desire to have real things, real lives, and not just more and more digital noise.

I have always been an early technological adopter. Computers, iPhones, and IPads, have long infatuated me and brought me a degree of pleasure. But these days, I find myself less and less satisfied with technology in general. In fact, a lot of our current technological innovations simply piss me off.

Let’s start with the so-called social media. Social media is killing us. The more we “connect” ourselves to people via social media, the less we can connect with those right in front of us. I’m tired of connecting to the back of my loved one’s phones! We have forgotten how to be people surrounded by other people with all the social obligations and pleasures that come with being in current company with others. We are content to cavort with someone whom we haven’t seen (probably for a good reason) in twenty years through the screen of some device which is perhaps 3,000 miles away rather than talk with our spouses or our children. It’s ridiculous!

Instant availability of information is making us stupid. I don’t know about you, but I once remembered things. Random facts, dates, and historical milestones were all part of my mental repertoire; now, they are left for Google to remember. Once, I had a decent sense of direction. Now, why bother? The iPhone can remember how to get to my friend Paul’s house. Why should I bother hoarding such useless information in my limited data stores?

It seems that we, myself included, have let go of our minds and given those thoughts over to technology. What is next? What is next is sex bots (West World), bio-mechanical digital interface with our devices (Apple watch on steroids), and armed drones with facial recognition (Terminator III). I dare not ask for fear that someone might tell me what they have in mind. Lately, I’ve told my Zombie Apocalypse friends: “Don’t be afraid of the zombies. The robots will get you long before the zombies have a chance!”

Sax’s book was encouraging in this sense. It reminded me that I’m not the only one who thinks these things. Honestly, if you look around at any time of day when you are surrounded by other people, it would be hard to tell if others worry about this as well. Social gatherings are no longer marked by groups of people in conversation. Now, more often, they are characterized by groups of people browsing their phones while feigning interest in the people right in front of them. Real things do matter, but real people matter more. This is where Sax’s book sometimes loses me. He reports on replacing digital stuff with real stuff. Don’t get me wrong. I like stuff, especially real, quality stuff. But reconnecting with real people is more important.

Revenge of the Analog was a worthwhile read, though, even if I only read the chapter on “Revenge of Work.” In this chapter, Sax lays out the resurgence of some companies investing in people, even if it costs them slightly more to do so. He recounts the story of a company in Detroit Michigan called ShinolaShinola (Yes, from the old WWII phrase: “You don’t know shit from Shinola!”), began by making higher-end hand-made watches in Detroit by hiring people who had been laid off from the automotive industry. Now they make audio equipment, bags, watches, bicycles, and more.

But Shinola’s success is built on the success of their people. Their employees are their story as much as the stuff they make. They’re real people, from a real city, connecting to real things, and by default, other real people at the same time. It’s quite a story.

I have no agenda in writing this blog today. I’m not arguing that you should sign off of Facebook (though maybe you should) or that you throw your phone out the window (though maybe your kids would appreciate it if you did). I’m only saying that perhaps you should stop and think about real things, real people, and if, and perhaps why, they matter. You could even start by reading The Revenge of the Analog. It’s not a bad read. But for the love of all that is holy, if you do buy and read the book, purchase the print version and not the damned Kindle version!