“Digital technology is something they’ve known their whole life,” says author and award-winning journalist David Sax of those in their teens, 20s or younger. “It’s like air. It’s not exciting.”
While the release of a new iPod or update on a social media platform can cause a furor of excitement—or dread for those used to the way the system already works—there is a concurrent movement afoot, a revival of analog consumer goods and a rejection of many of the technological developments that have seemingly made hobbies or tasks easier.
Sax delves into this dichotomy in both his book, The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter, as well as his April 9th lecture and conversation of the same name at the Cranbrook Schools Performing Arts Center. He will be giving the inaugural Lillian and Donald Bauder Lecture, which was established in 2016 through a generous gift from Cranbrook President Emeritus Dr. Lillian Bauder, who served as Cranbrook’s President and CEO from 1983 to 1996, and will be presented annually by the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.
“I was interested in someone whose topic would touch upon what we do here, but who could take our work and put it in a broader context of cultural thinking,” says Greg Wittkopp, the Center’s director.
“We’re all about making sure the paper documents of Cranbrook’s history are not only preserved, but that they have relevancy for a new generation.”
A decade ago, when Sax first digitized his CD collection, he remembers that, without physical access to music, “overnight, my interest in music seemed to fade.” Shortly thereafter, his parents gave him an old record player.
“We started listening to the records, which sparked a conversation of this analog, physical vinyl, and the digital stuff and the advantages and disadvantages of listening to it. It was certainly more engaging to listen to music on records. It was more the process itself—it required more work, and there was something really fun about it.”
Sax is not alone in his appreciation for seemingly outdated modes of consuming culture. Vinyl records, polaroid-esque cameras, and the near ubiquitous Moleskin notebooks are not just kitschy throwback items, but rather speak to a desire to put down one's smartphone and feel the tactility of pen and paper. And Detroit is playing a role in this movement. Both Shinola and Third Man Records, the adjacent stores on West Canfield in Midtown Detroit, are thriving by catering to these analog consumer interests. However, Sax wants to be clear that while from the outset, Shinola’s watches and notebooks speak to this vintage culture, rooted in Detroit’s manufacturing history, they are a “very high-tech operation in the design labs.”
Those driving this return to analog?
It is the younger generations, the millennials and younger, leading the charge. Sax says that for baby boomers, or even those in their 40s, “analog tech is something they already knew. They had it and gave it up.” Features like making the font larger and brighter on a Kindle, or sharing photos of grandchildren on a phone or tablet “is the pinnacle of civilization” to those who remember a day of landlines, dial-up modems and darkrooms.
He is quick to note that teens are not completely rejecting technology, but integrating items into their lives—like the teen who uses a Fujifilm Instamax camera (a modern-day Polaroid) for special occasions, and who may or may not have been inspired by the cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989 album. Wittkopp mentions his 20-something daughter’s preference for hardcover books, his wife inheriting the Kindle they purchased for her.
Digitization has also increasingly become common when it comes to archives, making the Center for Collections and Research’s place in this whole phenomenon even more noteworthy. Sax certainly sees a place for both. He says that digital records help in the early research stages: “If I’m doing research on the Eames chair or the arts and crafts movement, before I drive to Detroit, I want to know that they have that.” From “the seat of my home in Toronto, however, I won’t be able to hold the mold of the first Herman Miller chair, or speak to the curator who can give me knowledge of who else to talk to, or search through the card catalogue and find something else that might take me in another direction.” Librarians and historians will be pleased to hear this appreciation for the original object.
Sax seeks harmony between Luddites and technophiles. “The world of culture needs all sorts of different experiences. You need people to be painters and sculptors and digital artists. You need all of that because they fit different purposes and people want that for different sets of times. That is the dichotomy that has to be in place in order for a society to be successful.”
The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter, Lecture and Conversation with Author David Sax, Sunday, April 9th at 3pm at the Cranbrook School Performing Arts Center in Bloomfield Hills. Admission is free. The lecture will be followed by a book signing and reception. For more information, click here.