The Star-Herald

Living in the analog world

I read an article recently saying we will sometime into the future reach a Digital Dark Age. In it, our stored digital memories will gradually disappear with the ravages of time and electronic deterioration. I suspect we are already in a New Dark Age politically, but that’s another matter.

The fact is that digital imagery and memory are merely a sequence of stored electrons on readily acceptable and currently available formats. New formats displace the old. I know of few who use the Beta format or reel-to-reel tape recorders in their daily lives. Instead we have iPhones, smartphones and Androids. Film photography is for an elite group of purists and specialists. Some swear vinyl records are better in sound quality than CDs. There will be a revival. There has to be.

I take history seriously. At its best, it’s a printed set of instructions on what to do and what not to do. History is, however, encoded into a set of stories that have to be deciphered or interpreted by the reader. It isn’t always accurate as far as outcome, as most things, including the behavior of subatomic particles, can behave unpredictably. We humans are composed entirely of subatomic particles, so you get my drift.

I suppose ’drift’ is the general idea here. We can assume that people, things and most vertebrate animals will behave in a generally predictable fashion, like my example of the shark in the swimming pool. Sure, you can get in the swimming pool, but there’s a shark in it and sharks bite. Sometimes they don’t. The choice to go swimming is yours.

Digital technology is easy and user friendly and all that malarkey, but like the shark in the swimming pool, it may come back to bite you. I’m talking about the eventual and inevitable disintegration of the digital information itself. Formats come and go. Electrons degrade into the mists of time. All those nifty Nikon SLR cameras I once owned are artifacts, still able to provide information and take great photographs, but practically obsolete with the decline of film production and darkroom chemistry.

That’s why I still buy and read books, even if the paper eventually degrades. It can be replaced by new books. There’s nothing like the printed page, the ultimate two-dimensional analog technology, for filling your head with ideas and images.

True, I use a laptop computer to write this down, but I mistrust it. It has betrayed me on numerous occasions. Things vanish with the merest touch of a button. While I appreciate the spell-checking and speed, I realize that all of what I write will eventually end up as a discarded hard drive in a landfill somewhere, permanently irretrievable. Unless I print it out, of course, and file it away for the ravages of time, memory and the elements to take effect.

I write hymnals to the typewriter as a consequence. It replaces the handwritten word and is a relatively simple mechanical device that perfectly describes my analog view of reality, or rather, reality being analog. I convey words to paper and have a paper record of those words; paper being an example of analog technology.

I tend to mistrust the ‘lighted screen’ as the Irish poet has it, often using an old manual typewriter for first drafts. Some people live their whole lives digitally, as though the frail electrical cables powering these devices will hold up forever. They’re merely temporary conveniences as are most things in this temporal and largely analog world.

I finish this with an example of what inspires me to think this way. A friend of mine is making a series of drawings for a book on her kitchen table. The book, when finished, has all the earmarks of being something similar to the illuminated Icelandic Sagas, depicting a people and their culture. She labors alone in her kitchen scriptorium like an Icelandic monk of an earlier day, putting pencil to paper to create the imagery of a culture.

The example is purest analog to me, and the very best of it.

Dave Wylie’s life and work experience runs the gamut from newspaper editor to carpenter to grant writer to boat builder with lots of other work wedged in-between. Wylie currently is president of a management company that oversees an elderly housing complex and president of the local historical society. He resides in Madawaska.

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