The Aura of Analog

In the Pitchfork op-ed entitled, "The New Analog," author Damon Krukowski tries to articulate the importance of analog technology in today's digital world.

Unfortunately, he ends up confusing his readers and perpetuating digital myths. Already too often people romanticize technology, especially older analog technology, imbuing it with some sort of cosmic power of nature and righteous historical lineage. Digital technology is often seen as flat, processed, and lifeless. Krukowski takes this stereotype further, applying it to the human condition. Analog, good! Digital, bad!

So what is really the difference between analog and digital? Continuity. An analog signal is continuous, and a digital one is discrete. That's it. Modern circuit design often deals with a mixture of the two, and often deals with converting back and forth. Like a lot of engineering, the choice of dealing with a signal in either domain ends up being a series of tradeoffs. A designer tries to use the best techniques available to balance parameters like efficiency, control, and accuracy within given constraints. Analog techniques are still used today - it's just no longer the *only* technique available, thanks to the transistor.

Ok - now I know people don't always use the word analog literally, but I've also heard it misused in place of words like tactile, human and organic. I think the word people actually mean to use is serendipity. A lot of the positive mental associations of analog are the result of the non-linear and unpredictable nature of older analog circuits - the happy accidents. So, what people seem to love about this gear is the serendipitous nature of them. Knowing this, why can't "serendipity" be yet another feature that a designer builds into a circuit, digital or analog?

In the midst of all the confusion, Damon Krukowski incorrectly attributes an increase in social self-isolation to the digital age. He sees current technology as dividing us, and somehow thinks older technology will reconnect us. To look to older technology as a therapy for modern social discontent is missing the mark entirely. Why can't we define the future relationship we want with technology instead of imagining it as an immutable force of nature that defines us?

Krukowski is troubled by social trends, but rather than dig deeper into the social dynamics of technology he gets lost trying to assign blame to digital design. He comes to strange conclusions (GPS and headphones "digitizing" the human experience? Audio processing and compression "removing" human elements from our communication?) and so his conclusion is that we've lost something along the way, and we must look to analog for the answers. Maybe what Krukowski really wants is more serendipity in his life.

If there is anything to take away from the piece, it's that technology has succeeded in appearing to be the root cause and cure of all human problems, cementing its permanent relevance in our lives. In doing so, technology keeps us talking about technology, preventing us from talking about anything else. This conversational roadblock is a source of excitement as well as resentment, and I believe why we feel "controlled" and trapped by technology. It is presented as a false dilemma, something we either must totally reject or accept. To get past this, we have to stop imagining technology as a force outside of human control, and realize we imagine it, we create it, and we use it - and so we are capable of redefining our relationship with it.

xbeethovenx (not verified) says:

Love it.

A good video that maybe the author of that article needs to watch:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QfNSuNulyQY

brendan (not verified) says:

Good critique! This raises the question though of whether an adequate response to modern social discontent could be just a matter of 're-imagining' technology or whether man's relationship to machines in society might be a function of society itself -- i.e. the social relationship of labor in self-contradiction. I recommend reading the Moishe Postone essay
Necessity, Labor, Time !