Why Digital Isn’t Enough

The family was in the car.

We were on holiday in the motherland, England.

A favorite song came on the radio.

For you, the song I heard doesn’t matter.

Think of an old favorite. One with memories attached. From a great album.

Can you hear it? OK, let’s continue…

Music in the modern world

I certainly remember what struck me about the song I was hearing. It took me back to a time when I bought the album and listened to every song on it. Playing it again and again until it became the soundtrack for that particular time of my life.

My wife and I started talking about this phenomena. How we felt that there are less and less of those types of songs. Music had become more ephemeral and transient. Buying an album used to be more involved, we committed to it and got to know it. We felt connected to it. This was enhanced by the tactile feel, the touch, its physical presenceā€¦ with vinyl this was extreme. We treated CDs with kid gloves to avoid scratching them, for fear the evil ‘skip’! There was that glint of rainbow from the CDs metallic surface. Album art, lyrics, song listing. It was a multi-sensory experience.

Now we have a world of songs available through subscription. We follow our friends and can see what they like. In theory we can discover more music. We can hear a song on the radio, tag it with our smart phone, add it to a playlist and have it blasting out over our home music system. There are clearly massive benefits to digital.

The written word

With books you can now carry a whole library with you, literally thousands of tomes on a single device. Amazon worked with the FAA testing hundreds of kindles to prove that the devices didn’t affect safety. And now you can use it for your whole flight eliminating one of the benefits of print on a plane.

Yet you can’t lend or gift a friend one of these books. It’s not allowed by the license. You don’t own that "book".

You can’t sit back in your office and peruse the real, albeit limited, library and be inspired to pick up a book and dive in. I find this is particularly important with factual books, packed full of expertise, books you want to dip into and out of. The same goes for poetry collections.

And of course paper still beats our current screen technology.

Photography

There is something wonderful about seeing my favorites in print, hung in an elegant frame, adorning a wall with great light in a way that catches me as I walk past. Pleasantly interrupting my moment with a memory of a person, a place, a feeling, a journey.

And yet with digital it is infinitely easier to create and share than it was in the days of film. In some ways this can diminish the value, when everyone with a smart phone is a photographer.

Consider the opportunity in learning the craft as fully as you can, pushing yourself in the creation, editing and developing of photos that are something you don’t simply take, rather a piece of art you make. Go beyond filters, get to know Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (the most important part of my photography gear) and how to digitally develop photographs. If you want to go even further take them back out into the analog world by getting to know the printing process itself, rather than simply sending them off to a ‘lab’ or Costco.

Note taking: The analog that refuses to die

Every time people proclaim the death of paper and hand written notes a new approach to bridge these this format with the digital arrives. The literal application of the technology; computerized pen and paper such as the Surface 3 does keep getting better. Yet companies like MOD Notebooks keep raising the bar, enabling you to *really* keep writing on real paper with a real pen and making it available digitally. I’m working on falling in love with MOD, so far they have delivered an amazing customer experience – that tweet is only part of it.

I, like many others, still feel something in that physical connection between fingers, pen and paper. Those senses are important. Something is happening in my neural pathways that creates indirect benefits from touch, and does more so than tippy tap typing on a keyboard. You can’t erase millions of years of evolution and how we interact with the world overnight.

Yet the power of OneNote for creating, storing, finding notes across all the devices in my life is so powerful. It is literally one of the most important tools in my life. The fact MOD "Syncs" to OneNote is a big part of how excited I am for MOD. Incidentally OneNote isn’t the only service MOD Syncs with, Ever Note and others are also on the list.

Other human beings

It’s not just about creation of and the consumption of art, it’s also about how we interact together. When I mentioned I was planning this blog on twitter @hf noted well that it un-teaches social skills. David Burkus nicely puts how confirmation-bias thrives in digital, pick an argument with a friend online (religion, politics, gun control are great topics) so they can go search and find things that back up their opinion. Don’t do it in person, he says, as you will find a way to come to a common ground.

Email allows us to juggle more, twitter allows us to network more. Between Facebook and YouTube not only are we enjoying cats doing zanier things than we otherwise could we are able to stay in touch with friends and family in ways unheard of before the dawn of such crazy witchcraft.

Yet we are not really dealing with the person. I frequently work with colleagues I never see. In some cases I’ve worked on whole projects and never met or spoken to some of the people involved. We all become virtual resources for each other spread out across the world. We are not interacting with people, rather with a fraction of who and what they are in a very narrow context.

The importance of multisensory experiences

For much of human history we supplanted one way of doing things with something better and relegated the old to the dustbin. The famous John Deer invention that made extracting value from the vast plains of the Midwest is no longer in use, but the plains are more productive than they ever. By in large nowadays the steam engine is nothing more than a fascination. You really have to love the art of physical writing to purse and practice calligraphy.

Vinyl provides a delightful multisensory experience, enhanced with the involvement of touch, sight and smell. Movies are taken to a whole other level with music. We owe it to ourselves to maximize the richness of our experiences. Life is better because of it.

Technology has continued a deep integration into our lives and in many cases there are a mix of generations in use. Each serving a different purpose. You can own a record player and have a subscription to a streaming music service. You can have your cake and eat it.

We seek to capture, improve, alter and share the analog. The first recording devices made this possible, they froze in time sensory experiences. Like Edison famously said about his recording machine, "Talk into it, it will talk back". Technologies were invented to stop things slipping away, to bring them back out again, to our ears, eyes and hearts. And to those of others. Yet at the other extreme technology can through digitizing make things once again ephemeral and transient

My challenge to you: Keep the "more analog" versions of these technologies alive. Utilize all of their benefits and have a more complete experience.

I like to think this serves as a reminder to get out there into the real, purely analog, world and enjoy the living, breathing, visceral moment itself.

How do you feel about the balance between digital and analog? How has it affected you?

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