by Nina Bhadreshwar
Today, in London young people are shifting to the new technology in droves, abandoning Facebook, Spotify and their iPhones and attending dusty vinyl raves in untenanted buildings. I mean, bless them, they are not raves like I knew them but they are to them. They are starting conversations with people who have no social media. No likes. And in America, 80 million people born between 1980 and 2000, a whooping quarter of the population with a purchasing power of around $200 billion a year are moving on to the next technology.
Post-global-crash, customers no longer have confidence in the big companies. Since the recession struck, brand loyalty is a thing of the past. The only brands thriving are those who cultivate interest by being in touch with their customers in a more profound way. And what millennials crave - and what eludes them most - is a deeper connection. They have been raised in a digital world where most of their senses have been sitting redundant for most of their interactive life.
Raymond Meier is a lecturer from the Mediadesign Hochschule, the prominent design school in Germany. He believes real designers, be they digital or analog, all need traditional workshops. 'Touching something, feeling it and experimenting with it is important to be able to creatively design something later on.'
Most millennials remain in limbo between the digital world they are competent and familiar with, navigating Spotify, various email, App accounts, Instagram, finding even untethering from Facebook an emotional and mental challenge akin to grief and PTSD and engaging with the technology that does offer a deeper, more resonant connection. The former is what they are most confident with, how they know to navigate the world but it is not really delivering to their needs, emotionally, physically, mentally any more. In fact, most of them feel it is actually doing them damage. However, using clunky, space-consuming hardware is a luxury in an over-crowded planet. Especially for Generation Rent. Yet the real luxury is in the sensual experiences and deeper connections it allows them.
Less that 20% of millennial respondents in a Quora survey said they trusted Facebook with their personal info and, according to the American Psychiatric Association, half of Americans worry about the negative impact of social media on their mental and physical health.
There will be no reversal, however. We're not going to drop our phones and laptops in the trash. But the way to detox from its toxic overload, this digital oppression of human interaction is to redress the balance. Return to the senses, to analog, to the stimulations of the neurons, synapses and cells which create health and intelligence. And, thanks to passionate nerds and experts, analog is not only still around, it is also thriving. Sales of print books are up for the third consecutive year while eBook sales are declining. Independent bookstores have been steadily expanding since 2009. The massive boom in vinyl sales continues to grow. Nearly a million newly pressed records are sold each week in the UK and US. Sales of polaroids, Leicas, paper notebooks, board games, ticket sales to theatre and live music are all on the up.
But this wave is not nostalgia. Most of the purchases come from millennials and people who never experienced analog in the past.
Yes, it's expensive and takes up space - but, as all luxuries do, it delivers a depth of experience you just never get from a screen or modern technology. No digital picture will ever contain the colour range, depth and luminescence of real photography and painting: the pixels are clumpy and far too big. Digital music is compressed to such an extent that, not only is it at a frequency discordant with human health and nature, it actually does not record the accurate sounds. No fidelity just the autotune. No state-of-the-art headphones or sound systems can so far replicate the effect of vinyl or live music on a human. Neither can any science explain why we are more turned on by 'real' sounds than automated ones.
On top of this, every time you open a JPEG or MP3, the file becomes even more compressed and reduced in quality. So actually there is no permanent record of the real article in digital art/music. We are being leased/licensed an ever-decreasing sludge of culture. Intellectual property better step up its game.
Folk are buying books rather than Kindles because a book engages several senses: the smell, feel of paper, glue, ink, the sound of sheets turning, the cover design and texture and layout. Books are real live artefacts that can be physical gifts, commodities, ornaments, evidence. They start conversations. They keep secrets.
And vinyl. Where do I start? Album art used to be the working man's art collection and has become ever-more lucrative. It is the introduction to the shared cultural, sensual and political world of music. Then there is the music itself. A vinyl customer actually owns a recorded piece of an artist's work - recorded according to their creative genius to convey the subtlest and most vital messages, to resonate with the uni-verse and the individual. Vinyl can be scratched, it can be broken, it can be lost, it can be warped - but it can also be kept, played and its fidelity endures longer than digital's. Spotify, Beats and Soundcloud cannot claim any of the above.
Then there are the letters and cards - items that are now more precious and the sign someone really cares rather than the number of emojis and kisses. It shows us we are real, we matter enough for someone to actually compose and not just copy and paste. Our lives are cluttered and shackled by endless email chains, notifications, filtered images, group chats. The sacred space of analog ensures economy of intelligence and inspires creativity. Every creative knows using pen and paper or some material first before going on screen results in better and bigger ideas than those begun on screen.
IRL (In Real Life) communities are - surprise, surprise - more vital than the virtual 'communities' algorithms help us build online. We lived in real, physical, random, biodegradable spaces. We have limitations and boundaries and overcoming these is what real creativity is all about. There is limited creativity in unlimited virtual worlds - just a sea of replicated ideas trying to connect with the ether and binary.
Real communities, real shops, real people pay taxes, give hugs, provide funds that mend roads, run hospitals, do things that physically impact on everyday experience. The things that make me laugh or feel are real tangible things - not just a meme or secondhand virtual reports.
Real communities give me a feeling of connection and belonging, a sense of physical necessity and of existence that virtual will never be able to provide. While Facebook and Youtube may allow pedophiles, extremists and fascists free speech, I know a real boss would boot them out of his shop.
As a teacher, I do appreciate digital is a great way of transferring information. However, real learning, real critical thinking and creativity only occurs within an environment of relationships, trust and genuine, real time communication. Our brains do not register electronic hugs in the same way as they do touch or authentic vibration. We need dynamic interaction to be stimulated, to think and to grow. Our brains are not hard-drives; they were not built to be an information bank. They were built to be responsive, to interact with the real to feel and to live in the fullest sense. It is absolutely no mystery why dementia and mental illness is on the rise. We are forcing our brains to conform to binary and not using them the way they need to be used for optimal health.
Technological advancement does not necessarily point towards digital. In fact, advancements actually start to become more analog-like. Most innovations started off with analog efforts to create or recreate content/info but, due to the severe limitations, technologies were developed to create, edit or manipulate this data in digital form. Admittedly, it made things easier. But now we are starting to feel the limits of digital technologies. Adding 'bits' to audio, photo and video does not really benefit us physically in any way. Most notably, the 'i' generation has led to the omission of the very physical interaction humans require for life. Consequently, people are returning to older analog technologies as a re-engagement with the real world.
While analog recording methods store signals as a continuous signal in or on the media, digital recording requires digital signals to be quantized and represented as numbers. Analog was built around the transference of vibration, of energy from a diaphragm through to a needle to etch a groove which could then playback the exact sound recorded. The sound recorded on one of the spinning tin cylinders spins, the needle follows the groove, the vibration from the needle hits the diaphragm which then functions as an amplifier. And voila - an audible reproduction of the originally recorded sound.
And the advantage of analog is the fidelity i.e. the similarity/difference between the original recorded sound and that same sound after it has been reproduced by a playback device. An analog recording is all about the groove, electromagnetism and energy. A digital recording is produced by the physical properties of the original sound being converted into a sequence of numbers which can then be stored and read back for reproduction. Yeah, which sounds the most sexy? Digital is for mass consumption. Analog is for art.
There are two main differences between the two methods : bandwith and the signal-to-noise ratio. The bandwith of the digital system is determined according to the Nyquist frequency by the sample rate used. While with analog systems, a consumer analog cassette tape has a dynamic range of 60-70dB. Analog FM broadcasts don't usually exceed 50dB. The dynamic range of a direct-cut vinyl may go over 70dB. However, analog master tapes can have a dynamic range of up to 77dB. If you were to cut an LP on diamond with a groove size of 8 micron, there would be a dynamic range of 110dB. Now that is class. And also unlikely.
Vinyl has the 'rumble', the 'groove', the 'wow and flutter'. Digital has the 'dither' and 'jitters'. I know what I would rather feel! Harry Pearson of 'The Absolute Sound' journal says that 'LPs are decisively more musical. CDs drain the soul from music. The emotional involvement disappears.' Other producers prefer the analog cassette tape for its warm sound. The reason why digital is preferred is simply to do with expedience. Numbers are more easily manipulated than are grooves on a record or magnetized particles on a tape. But while numerical coding represents sound waves perfectly, it doesn't record them truly. So the sound is without background noise yet it is not the real sound. And real sound is what our bodies, our souls crave.
Our obsession with perfection is not just limited to Instagram and filters; it has corrupted everything. Perfection, autotune and sound manipulation prevents us from hearing the music of the real world, an imperfect world but it also prevents us from hearing truth - which is what we need. Our DNA is built on it. You cannot change that. A robot does not need it; it just needs an algorithm. But a human needs it.
Bob Dylan's 'Queen Jane Approximately' has the most jangly out-of-tune guitars I have yet heard. Yet it is without doubt a total classic, etched in my brain, soothes me time and time again. It will resonate throughout time. Don't ask me why. Music is not fashion. Music is science. Music is truth. Music, real music, has to be preserved and has to be true in order to last. Grammys and Awards and downloads mean nothing.
Digital is here to stay but, while digital can serve certain functions and make life easier, it cannot replace the real. We need to re-discover analog, to get back in touch with each other and with the world. So, go ahead. Hug a tree. Talk to your tomato plants. Spend quality time with the dog, enjoy puddles. These things matter. Liking Kendall Jenner's latest post and backing up your Tidal account doesn't.