Last updated: 02:23 PM ET, Thu November 03 2016

The Discovery of the Analog

I’ve recently noticed a number of developments in different fields that have given me impression that they are all part of a larger trend that encompasses all of them. I am calling that overall trend The Discovery of the Analog.

First here are some of the developments I am talking about.

Recently published research showed that college students who take lecture notes by hand retain more than those who take notes on their laptops.

The Washington Post recently reported research that showed “why nature is good for your brain.” This is just one more piece in a steady flow of research confirming the folk wisdom that nature is good for your health and well-being.

A study reported in Social Science and Health last summer linked reading books to longer life. This refers specifically to books and does not apply to magazines and newspapers or to reading on the Internet. The research showed that people who read books have stronger cognitive abilities, such as better recall or the ability to count backwards, and those skills, combined with the practice of reading, showed a correlation with longer life.

After losing ground to iBooks for a number of years, there is now plenty of evidence that paper books are on the rebound. This trend includes college students, who are discovering paper books. We are also seeing a resurgence in small, independent bookstores.

Decades after vinyl records were forced off the market by CDs and now decades since CDs were made archaic by MP3 technology, vinyl records are a big industry again.

Anyone watching the travel industry can’t have helped noticing that the popularity of travel agents has been on the rise for the last decade or so. Decades after travel agents were counted out by the mainstream media as obsolete because everyone can now book travel on the Internet, it has now been clearly demonstrated that the knowledge and experience of travel agents is every bit as valuable in the age of the Internet as ever. In fact, with the Internet extending and multiplying an individual’s efforts and effectiveness, you could make the case that the travel agent’s knowledge is more important than ever before.

This trend is not limited to travel agents. It refers to knowledge workers in general. Tour operators are certainly included in this category, as are many other kinds of professionals with specialized skills and knowledge. Dentists for example. Have you found a good app yet that can allow you to bypass your dentist next time you need to get a tooth filled? Let me know.

As digital technology completes its takeover of the world, we see that even in a world of computers, human intelligence, knowledge, experience and intuition will never be obsolete. Computer intelligence is always part of a larger network that must include human intelligence.

These are a few examples of the trends I am talking about.

You might say we should called it the “resurgence” of the analog, or the “rediscovery” of the analog, since the analog is an old thing. But oddly enough, the concept of analog didn’t exist until it had to be created to contrast with “digital”.

Before nearly everything was taken over by digital technology, there was no analog. Before the rise of digital recording, for example, there was no such thing as analog recording. It was just “recording.” After the rise of digital recording, the old style of recording on tape became “analog recording” to differentiate it from “digital recording.”

It’s the same with the world in general. In the past 50 years we have created a new world, the digital world, and that virtual world has supplanted the previous world. That previous era of technological evolution we now call analog. Previous to the digital world we had the analog world. But at that time we just called it the world.

We created a virtual reality and we are increasingly immersed in it and it embedded in us. As we have become more focused on the virtual world, we have tended to become more alienated from the real world.

Now we have generations of people who have grown up during the digital age, who did not experience the world that preceded it. To them the discovery of the analog world is a first-time discovery, not a rediscovery.

The digital world is the only world the Millennials have ever known. So all this ancient analog stuff is new to them. Analog, as we defined it, is just the rest of the world, the world outside your phone.

In the digital world you do practically everything on your phone. You spend most of your time looking at either your phone or a larger computer screen such as an iPad or maybe a laptop. Some people even preserve the ancient desktop computers.  

In the digital world, public schools don’t teach children how to write in the cursive form. What is the point? Everyone uses keyboards for everything anyway. Why would anyone want to write with a pen? How impossibly archaic!

However, now research shows that the old tools of pen and paper are still very valuable and provide a specialized value of their own that cannot be totally supplanted by digital technology. They still have a place and a value in the world. Maybe our schools should teach children how to use those tools after all, in case the electricity goes down.

We are quick to dump old technology as obsolete. We want to be the first to catch onto all the new trends. We want to be early adopters of new technology and early abandoners of old technology. Get rid of it. Move on. The old world is dead and gone.

Except sometimes, when things that we have cast aside show us that they still have value.