Saturday 28 September 2013

Why Analogue Refuses to Go Away

I am currently at home recovering from a hernia operation that I had last Monday, and because of this I have a lot of time on my hands right now to sit and listen to music, read and think on such things as the meaning of life, which is the tastiest breakfast cereal and why the analogue medium refuses to go away. When I say analogue I am not only referring to music, but the whole range of “old” stuff that was set to be replaced by it’s newer, more modern counterparts years ago and despite all odds stubbornly refuse to disappear and in some cases, like vinyl records, are actually staging a measurable comeback.

Over the last 49 years since I was born the world has changed radically and quite beyond belief. In South Africa during the sixties we didn't even have television and had to wait until 1976 before it was finally introduced to an eagerly waiting public. Before my father acquired the large wooden cased floor standing television set that graced our living room we would sit down to dinner every evening as a family, and have conversations about our day, what was happening at school or work or with the ailing neighbour down the street. It was a time that I still cherish to this day and for me those were some of the happiest times of my childhood. However, the day that the new television came into our house I distinctly remember my father sitting down at the table, dishing up a plate of food and then departing, food in hand, for the sitting room. We never ate our dinners at the dining room table again, except on special occasions, and the relationship that we had as a family was never quite the same again. Progress had come, but was it really progress at all?

Growing up I always had a healthy appetite for reading, which was instigated by my bookworm of a father. I eagerly read everything we had in the house, from the Readers Digest set of condensed classics, to the large selection of science fiction on the wooden bookshelf, to the countless Louis L'Amour westerns, the Agatha Christie crime novels my mother favoured, and young people’s novels like the “Famous Five”. I would lie around for hours immersing myself in worlds and civilisations previously unknown, all the while learning valuable English skills that would ensure that in high school I was a regular writer on the school’s little newspaper that we printed on an old Roneo machine which had to be cranked by hand, I was editor of the school yearbook of 1982 and wrote many of the articles and reports contained within it’s extremely ugly photo montage covers. In one of my first jobs the boss realised that it was quicker to get me to translate various documents from Afrikaans into English instead of sending them to the translation department. The list goes on, but suffice to say that I believe reading books in my youth (and beyond) really stood me in good stead for the rest of my life.

At the tender age of nine I received my first camera from my grandmother. She gave me a wonderful Box Brownie that lasted many years and with it I took photographs that I still have today. I have progressed since that time and now own several digital cameras complete with all the paraphernalia. I have worked for quite a few years as a photographer documenting weddings, photographing products for brochures and taking portraits. The reason I chose digital over film for my professional work was not a quality issue with me, I can easily shoot the identical pics I take on my digital wonder cameras on film and once printed on to good quality photographic paper nobody can tell the difference. No, the reason I went digital is simply for convenience, speed of workflow, and cost of production. I still have film cameras and often use them for personal projects.

Finally, I remember the thrill of listening to a new album, recently purchased at the record store and expectantly brought home to be opened, placed down on the record player and savoured as the marvellous miracle that good music is! It was always exciting for me to immerse myself in the incredible world of musical beauty that had the power to transform moods and attitudes and leave one feeling a sense of euphoria. I distinctly remember going to a party at a friend’s house in the late eighties and hearing a cd for the first time and being left somewhat unimpressed by how “thin” and sterile the sound was. Cleaner yes, but richer? Then finally the compressed digital files from hell with the dreary designation of mp3 came into existence and suddenly music was just something that was in the background somewhere endlessly making sure we never sit around in silence, but never really providing the thrill of earlier years of music listening.

I have listed a few different areas of my own life that have changed over the years from the place they were before to where they are now and I can tell you emphatically that if I could I would turn back the clock to times when families sat around dinner tables and conversed, young minds soaked up information from books and learned wonderfully rich grammar without realising it, photography was lingered over and the results savoured for years to come and music appreciation was first and foremost an experience of deep beauty on an almost spiritual level.

Fortunately I am also a realist and I know that technological progress has by and large been good for humanity and these many advances have ensured that more people can access a good quality of lifestyle that was never within reach of the majority of people throughout the history of mankind.

Why then have the old, analogue stuff refused to go away?

Well, what I think is this.

Despite all the technological advances of our modern age the new generation have discovered that they just simply are not any happier. Their parents and grandparents have told them about the “good old days” and it actually sounds quite appealing!

More and more people are recognising that modern television is a time consuming, mind numbing, creativity suppressing medium that forces values on us (and our children) that we don't necessarily agree with and subject us to corporate funded brainwashing by way of television advertising. I personally know of lots of people who now either just simply never get a TV, or they have relegated it to only being used very sparsely and for very specific purposes, like watching football or the news.

Reading books has become fashionable to do again, with apartments proudly displaying bookshelves with a choice selection of favourites firmly in place. Even if the new generation often uses e-readers like Kindle, they are at least reading novels again instead of just sitting and surfing around the internet for hours, aimlessly consuming badly written suitably condensed titbits that lack good grammar and even worse, have content of no great substance beyond fleeting entertainment value that provides very weak stimulation for the mind.

Film photography has gone through a “rediscovery” because of the abundance of cheap good quality film cameras that glut the market and have virtually zero financial value any longer but are still perfectly capable picture making tools. The special “look” that film gives is being re-examined by many eager young photographers who have tired of taking the same boring pics of their coffee to post to Facebook, yet again. Companies like Lomography are thriving with their low tech cheap plastic photographic offerings as a whole new generation find out that there is more to photographic art than having a sharp noise free high megapixel image.

Finally we have the miraculous resurgence in sales of vinyl records that has been a bit of a revelation to the music industry. While I don't think it will ever get back to the heydays of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, the survival of vinyl LP’s as a medium for listening to music tells me that there is an increasing amount of people who have taken the conscious decision to slow down, smell the roses, savour the moment and enjoy the simpler, more beautiful things that make life as we know it worthwhile living! You can't rush listening to music on vinyl, it demands time and engagement. It becomes an experience that cries out to be shared with loved ones in a more intimate setting.

As time goes on I predict that many more people will decide to simplify and savour the special moments of their lives increasingly in a way that is more enduring, building a lifetime of precious warm wonderful experiences and memories. There will be a new balance between the modern and the old, the analogue and the digital, the daily grind and the enjoyment of a deeper more meaningful leisure time that enriches rather than just fills up time.

Life is meant to be savoured, not simply endured and I for one am having the time of my life!

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