THE REVENGE OF ANALOG
By David Sax
Two-thirds of the way through this book full of middle-aged, middle-class white people finding markets for products that remind them of their childhood (vinyl, board games, paper notebooks, etc.), a Detroiter at a dive bar downs a shot of whisky and tells David Sax, “We put our value in technology jobs and forget those who built things. We treat them as inferior. If we continue that, our country is f–ked.”
This particular chapter is about Shinola, the Motor City producer of handmade watches that’s been slammed for making luxury goods most Detroiters can’t afford, but that, as Sax reminds us, has at least created half-decent manufacturing jobs. One salient impact of the digital revolution—including automation and the technological disruption of industry—has been to leave a lot of people out of work, and Sax’s championing of everything analog is most vital when the stakes are high.
Toronto-based Sax is something of a preservationist. His first book, Save the Deli, grew out of his love for Jewish delicatessens. Similarly, The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter emerges from his own “modest vinyl fetish.” So its first half is given over to colourful, though not really revelatory, tours of nostalgia-evoking places, from Jack White’s Third Man Records in Nashville to Italy’s de-mothballed Ferrania, on its way toward producing camera film once again.
The meat of this book, however, looks beyond the selling of old-school technology and fleshes out how analog things and connections shape our lives, through the ways we work, learn and build friendships. Sax speaks with students about why they like paper, with summer camp-goers about why it’s good to leave their smartphones at home, and with Detroiters who hope to make their city great again—or, at least, pretty darn good.
Sax leans heavily on other authors to theorize about what’s going on here, but when he lets rip, he’s refreshingly pointed, slamming “the glossy, streaming waterfalls of information and marketing that masquerade as relationships on social networks” and insisting on how “a great teacher will always provide a more innovative model for the future of education than the most sophisticated device, software, or platform.” For all of Sax’s tales of retro business success, the most valuable story is what underlies them: how the revenge of analog is really about the importance of the human.