The Future is Analog: An Introduction

My morning routine is simple. I make myself a cup of coffee, put on some jazz, and read a book. The problem I’m solving for is to have some quiet time before my workday begins. I don’t want to start the morning angry, and if I have to look at a screen, I will be angry.

I read a physical, dead-tree, ink-on-paper book because there’s no comments section. No trolls to interject their ignorance. No bad-faith hot takes. It’s just me and the ideas that the writer is trying to express.

The stuff I usually listen to is classic Blue Note bebop from the 50s and 60s. I’m enjoying the music for what it is. That it’s not immediately contemporary is a selling point. I’m not saying that the artists weren’t political, but John Coltrane wasn’t writing songs about gerrymandering and climate change. There’s no one around to start an argument about Sonny Rollins’ opinions on vaccines or civil rights.

The problem is that I need to look at a screen to play the music. As soon as I touch a device, that temptation is there. You know what I mean. Let me check my email in case that person wrote back to me. I only want to see if anyone commented on the cute tweet I dropped last night. Just a quick glance at Instagram to see how many likes I got on my latest post.

Most of the time, I have the willpower to resist. It helps when I’m into a good book and more excited to read that than peek in at what’s happening on the web. Sometimes I fall down the rabbit hole. When that happens, I end up not getting any reading done. I cease to pay any attention to the music if I get around to playing it at all. My coffee goes cold. I feel bad for the rest of the day over that wasted time, but I also end up angry and depressed, with my sense of hope for the world greatly diminished.

The worst days are when I end up looking at the news. I peek at Twitter or go to check a specific news story for an update and see some other awful thing that’s happened. That’s compounded with rude, cruel, and flat-out factually bankrupt comments. People are no longer satisfied to be contrarian and disagree with opinions. Now they have to disagree with objective reality itself.

One morning I thought to myself, I should get a radio. That way, I could tune in and listen to music without touching a screen. Then I remembered the reality of commercials and inane disc jockeys. After a little more woolgathering, I realized that an old hi-fi console is what I want. My great-aunt had one. It was like a sideboard, a gorgeous piece of furniture in her living room. The ends opened up into speakers. On the top, one side opened up to reveal a record player, and the other was a bin to hold albums. She could stack 3 or 4 records on a spindle, and they’d play, one at a time.

Another thought occurred to me. To know what was going on, I can get the newspaper delivered. All of the unsolicited opinions are on a letters-the-editor page, and someone vets those. In theory, the profane will be weeded out, along with the conspiracy theories and propagandist fiction. It’s not censorship. It’s called having standards.

That’s the dream morning. Make some coffee, a process already perfect in its simplicity. Put on some records, and read a book or peruse the newspaper. I get what I want and need without corporate shills or random strangers sticking their two cents in. I can welcome a calm morning, free from unwelcome interrupts.

Now, I’m not giving up my devices or my internet access any time soon. I like being able to look up information instantly. Streaming movies is pleasant, and ordering things for delivery has been a lifesaver these past years. My business is possible because of our digital reality. I’m not advocating for a world that’s 100% analog. That would be foolish and probably impossible.

And yet, not everything digital is necessarily better. I want to be able to pick and choose. I know people that always want to have the latest gadget, not because it serves some need but because it’s new. Many of us adopt things not because we want to but because everyone else is doing it. We do things not because they’re good for us, our community, or the planet, but because they’re convenient. We do things not because they’re morally or ethically sound but because they’re expedient.

And all of that brings me to my new project, called The Future is Analog. ┬áThe point is to ask questions and to challenge the status quo. I want people to be mindful of what they do and why they do it. I want to examine what we get from things other than a dopamine hit. This project isn’t a call for revolution or an indictment of technology. It’s a plea for sanity.