While not quite dystopian in its outcome, the digital revolution has not only disrupted our everyday life;
it has shaped and continues to shape the way we live. David Sax’s entertaining book examines the analog holdouts--those products and businesses that are still tethered to the traditional way of doing things and that stand as bulwarks against the digital takeover. From this narrative, one can conclude that the death of analog is largely exaggerated.
Moleskine notebooks, originally a niche product for the adventure travel industry, now have gone mainstream. Even as an entire generation has pretty much forgotten how to write by hand, the sales of this Italian product has mushroomed. Sax talks to the company founders and aficionados of this product to find out why there is a continuing market for handwritten documentation. Sax’s journey to discover the renaissance of analog takes him to the music recording industry (record sales have grown more than ten times in the current decade, albeit from a small base), photography, and board games, among others. Everywhere he goes, he
discovers analog products finding their own space even as an onslaught of cheaper and seemingly far more efficient digital alternatives exist.
For this reviewer’s money, though, the chapter on education is the most poignant and compelling. The digital revolution has made a major impact on how students are taught and how they learn. Digital technology in the form of massive open online courses (MOOCs) has enabled education to be a lot more democratized than before. And yet, the number one requested item on a donation site for teachers is the whiteboard marker. As Sax finds out, somehow (at least at the K-12 level) the tactile way of writing something down on a whiteboard or a notebook enables better accumulation and retention of knowledge than using digital technology. Sax chronicles massive misplaced investments in iPads and computers that misguided school systems in the United States had embarked on in their efforts to catch the digital chimera only to go back to the analog way.
Analog adherents are not Luddites. Sax prefers to think of them as people who believe that where analog offers better outcomes than digital, one should embrace the form and not be caught up in the technology tsunami. His book reinforces this premise with interesting and topical examples.