Monday, September 01, 2008

In Praise of Analogue

When I did an SLR photography course earlier this year, I was the only one in the class who was shooting on film. The rest had digital SLR cameras. Though I felt like a dinosaur at the start, I learned to appreciate many things about film photography.

It also got me reflecting on a range of other technologies and media that have been superseded by digital technology – what you could call ‘analogue’ technologies, for lack of better word. And I was inspired to write an occasional series of posts in homage to ‘analogue’ technologies.

It is not a new use of the term, of course. Many have long described pre-digital technologies as analogue, after how clocks with hands were distinguished from digital ones. Analogue has become a very handy catch-all phrase.

There is a wide range of pre-digital media: 135 mm photographic film, black and white film, cassette tapes, video, vinyl records and even letters.

And there are many more technologies that have receded into our not-so-dim past: pre-electronic SLR cameras, transistor radios, reel-to-reel audio recorders, dial telephones, typewriters, fountain pens, and even the lowly pencil. And potentially cathode-ray tube TVs.

This won’t be an exhausting survey, but an idiosyncratic exploration drawing on my own experiences and reflections. So while I am not covering things many things, that is not stopping you from doing so, either in the comments or in your blogs.

The first in this ‘Analogue’ series will be a homage to film photography, so stay tuned.

What sets these technologies apart as analogue is that each has been superseded to some extent by a digital equivalent.

More significantly, analogue technologies are much, much slower than digital technologies. The speed of digital made it so much more appealing than the analogue equivalents. Paradoxically, in our fast-paced digital world, slowness is now what is increasingly appealing about analogue forms.

I’m no technophobe. I have enjoyed the digital revolution tremendously. But exploring analogue technologies offers a richness – not only of tapping some sentimental past, but of exploring new ways of experiencing and appreciating our world today.

[Image: photograph published by Library of Congress on flickr, no copyright]

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At September 01, 2008 1:42 pm, Blogger djfoobarmatt said...

From an electronics point of view, the word analogue is used to describe a signal that can continuously vary between states without any 'quanta'. In digital, the analogue signal is sampled but in doing so it is represented by a number of quantised states (each one having a number between zero and the maximum number represented by the available bits, hence a 16bit signal has 65535 levels). Also there is time quanta which is the rate at which the analogue signal is captured. The electronics that are used for dealing purely with analogue signals are referred to as analogue electronics and are limited in size and flexibility (seeing as noise is added to the signal at every step). I'd never thought too much about how we've expanded the meaning of the word analogue until you mentioned it just now - even though my Uncle once told me that I was a "digital" driver and needed to become more "analogue" (and to slow down).

At September 01, 2008 2:35 pm, Blogger Mark Lawrence said...

Yep, that stuff didn't make sense when I checked Wikipedia, and it still doesn't make sense now (no reflection on your ability to communicate it, though, Matt). And I used to use a lot of analogue technolgy. Doesn't mean I know how it works...

I am very interested in how the term 'analogue' has spread into other parts of our culture and signifies many things, particularly non- or pre-digital technology.

In researching this piece, I started with audio to mark the distinction between analogue and digital. I.e. magnetic tape as analogue vs electronic files as digital.

Then I came across others' comparison's of clocks with hands vs digital faces (the original 'digit'-al!). And there's more!

I love your uncle's description of your needing to be a more analogue driver. (may I use that one?)

I think we could all do with being more analogue in everything we do.


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