War is over

Street banner on a festival bookshop

Over the past couple of weeks I have seen a few things that have got me thinking about analog and digital and why that statement often becomes analog verses digital with people taking sides in a fairly hardened fashion.

Poster in Hay book shop window

At the Hay book festival it's easy to see why book shop owners have an entrenched (but ultimately misplaced) hatred of e-books given the existential threat they pose to their livelihoods but the wider attitude of, 'books are good, technology is evil', that pervaded the event surprised me.

With the exception of a few eccentrics most of the authors probably wrote their books on PC's, researched their articles on the web, sold tickets for their show by e-commerce but still many of them struck or supported a terribly snobbish tone akin to - 'Books are for the intellectual elite whilst technology  is for the uncouth and uncultured'

The inference in many conversations was, if you really loved books, I mean really loved them, then you had to have a disdain for modern technology - The two things were virtually mutually exclusive.

This rather one-eyed approach though is not the exclusive property of the book lovers. When Casey Liss casually mentioned on two podcasts, ATP and IRL Talk that he thought vinyl records sounded better than digital audio. The approbation of the digital community rained down. Many technophiles took to their blogs and twitter to post comprehensive rejections covering every attribute (Dynamics, frequency response, imaging etc.)

In terms of dynamics, vinyl is terrible and often our songs needed fairly drastic compression (the audio kind) and limiting to fit into what is acceptable for vinyl.

Not only does vinyl have a narrower frequency response, but that response curve changes based on side length and how to the center of the record the needle is.

Vinyl sucks. I can't think of any axis it wins on

The argument quickly became a binary, scientific, evidential one - with Casey ultimately having to almost publicly apologise for daring to believe that he preferred analog to digital when listening to music.

I find this as equally puzzling as the Kindle haters - Many got so wrapped up in the science that they missed the point. Music is an art not a science. I will always prefer to read my well thumbed, orange jacketed, Graham Greene novels to any e-book copy. The e-book copy will be more faithful to the authors original text (my old copy has got a couple of pages missing and a red wine stain that makes a paragraph illegible) but the romance, the tactile feel, the old book smell, the memory of reading this book in cafe in Berlin before the wall came down, makes the overall sensory pleasure of reading the book infinitely superior to reading the text on my iPad. If Casey Liss, or anyone, feels the same way about music then so be it. End of. 

I posted a couple of years ago about how wandering through the web reminds me of the excitement and inspiration of wandering through the art of London.

..we would wander. Wander without destination or without a plan. We’d set off on the south bank of the river, walking and talking and we would see where the city took us. Maybe to the Jazz of the Barbican, maybe to the second hand books of the South Bank centre.

I get it more now in another place and that’s when I’m wandering through the almost infinite halls, corridors and possibilities of the web. I love having the time to lazily click from place to place, looking for the new, the innovative, the cool, the challenging, the inspiration. 

I feel more strongly than ever that the digital and analog worlds don't just compliment each other but they enable each other. Both are so much stronger for the existence of each other.

I feel privileged to live in a time when both exist. I want to fill my day with both. I don't want to have to take sides or choose.

I want to write in pencil in my battered black note book but then file a picture of it in Evernote. I want to keep building my library of Penguin classics but I'll probably find them on the web. I want to consume more books than I would have time to read by listening to them in spare minutes on my iPhone.

Next time you feel your position hardening in an analog v.s digital debate or arts v.s technology  -  stop for a second and remind yourself - you can have both. You don't have to choose. It doesn't have to be a battle.

Browsing Booths book shop

p.s. Casey was right. Vinyl does sound better than digital.