Thursday, January 21, 2010

Good Old Analog Me

Here’s to the old analog world! The hand-written and mechanically reproduced world that existed before computerized digitization.

It was a simpler time, and it was my time for a long time. In my grammar school, we all had our fountain pens in our shirt pockets, and Handwriting was a full subject. An early job of mine was “Accounting Clerk B” at Random House in Manhattan. We did the cost accounting for the book runs, invoices would come in and we would make hand-written entries in the permanent records, with those fountain pens again, running the new totals on electro-mechanical adding machines. It all seems very Dickens now.

I made similar entries on things called “Cardex” systems, tracking parts inventories in factories, or the contents of a warehouse.

Does anyone else fondly remember the old library “Card Catalogs?” Vast collections of wooden drawers containing typed cards for all of the books in the library, with multiple cards for each book alphabetized by author, title, and subject. I loved browsing through these monuments to librarians’ dedication. I still think of them as the height of analog technology. Not only lovable, but easy to use and very practical. Many times, you are not quite sure of what you are looking for in a library, and in a card catalog you could go to that area and just look around. This is much harder to do in modern, computerized library systems, if it can be done at all.

My own personal property is still predominantly analog. Sure, I have CD’s, but not in numbers anything like my vinyl LP records, plus the 45’s. Lots of old magazines and comics, photographs with negatives and color slides. Cassette tapes, even though they are mostly so degraded now that they don’t play right anymore. I no longer have a reel to reel tape recorder, but I still have some of the old tape reels. Anyone who achieves a certain age becomes the archivist of their own lives, but rarely have the artifacts appeared so archaic to young people.

At the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, digital is the Anti-Christ! I don’t wish to debate the sound quality of LP’s v. CD’s, and I kind of like the convenience of digital cameras, but digital has qualities that threaten creativity and copyright. If you released a mechanically reproduced music product, it was almost impossible to modify it in the future, you were married to the released version. Digital music can be so easily revisited that you can release re-mixes on a monthly basis if you want to. Which one is the “real” version? Photographs can no longer be trusted, they can be limitlessly manipulated and each version is totally believable. Even books now cannot be trusted for authenticity. Hemmingway? Through what filter? Classic movies? Where are the cigarettes? I seem to remember a lot of smoking. I am certain that within twenty years the number one box office heart throb will be Steve McQueen. Staring, maybe, in an “Avatar” sequel, why not? Or “Bullit II,” now in 3D! Late Sixties San Francisco, in all of it’s digital glory.

Oh, that really was curmudgeonly. It sounds like that old Saturday Night Live bit, with the old guy going on and on. I don’t really object to the progress involved, you can’t fight progress and modernity. I just think that there are ethical problems involved that are not being sufficiently addressed.


Anonymous said...

Things were never "simpler" Mr. Fred. You were brought up in a different system & embraced it. Things are so off your curve now that you are rejecting them on pure instinct. Its ok though, you dont have to like it.

I suggest taking deeper breathes while in the vicinity of a computer.


fred c said...

I actually like the new stuff and value the convenience. They bring ethical and intellectual challenges though.

Like the challenge to reality itself: it has become harder to identify the "real" version of something that has reality (like the movie "Star Wars," for instance); and it has become easy to take something with no reality and make it appear "real."