The Revenge of Analog

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“So we journey on with these tasks, stirring the soil, watering plants, tending livestock, scribbling strings of words, putting these journals together, chasing paints and caring for each other, all in all grateful and blessed. Hoping the same and more for all of you.” Lynn R. Miller, Small Farmer’s Journal  

 

In central Oregon, where we recently moved, the exquisite Small Farmer’s Journal has been around since 1976. Publisher, editor, writer, and artist Lynn Miller’s sentiments above are quite a contrast to this passage from my recent read:

revengeofanalog“‘The digital world… brings dysphoria – a low-level but constant heartbreak that is one of its most controversial side effects,’ wrote Virginia Heffernan in the New York Times Magazine in 2011, in an article exploring the driving force behind a growing affinity for analog….It’s still here, the persistent sense of loss. The magic of the Internet – the recession of the material world in favor of a world of ideas – is not working for everyone.” The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter, David Sax

I’ve had digital world dysphoria lately, and so I appreciated The Revenge of Analog and the chance to stop and savor some of the “real things” we all used to love, and many of us are loving still. David Sax says:

“Analog gives us the joy of creating and possessing real, tangible things in realms where physical objects and experiences are fading. These pleasures range from the serendipity of getting a roll of film back from the developer, to the fun in playing a new board game with old friends, to the luxurious sound of unfolding the Sunday newspaper, and to the instant reward that comes from seeing your thoughts scratched onto a sheet of paper with the push of a pen. These are priceless experiences for those who enjoy them.” 

This post is simply a tribute to analog and a ramble through some of the analog bits in my life. I’d love to hear about yours, too, in the comments, please!

 

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This I found under the Christmas tree, a bit of analog from St. Brigid Press: “Wildflowers Ending,” a hand-sewn chapbook by J.L. Davis. My copy is number 49 of 98. (“Wildflowers Ending” was handset in the Bembo family of types, and cast at the Bixler Letterfoundry. Letterpress printed with a 1909 Golding Pearl treadle press on Mohawk Superfine text paper with Lokta wraps.)

 

I’ll share one story from The Revenge of Analog that is especially meaningful to me, having lived in Rochester, NY for several decades and worked for a time at Eastman Kodak. David Sax’s tale of the attempted resurrection of photographic film in a small Italian village is surprisingly dramatic and harrowing. (And did you know that Kodak has just reintroduced Ektachrome?!)

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“Wildflowers Ending” frontispiece by Lana Lambert.

Reading Sax’s story about FILM Ferrania, I was reminded of when our son got started in photography in high school using analog film. He’d spend hours in the darkroom. It made me wonder about Kodak and whether they’ve curated and archived their old film manufacturing recipes.

“What Baldini and his business partner Marco Pagni were attempting to do here, at this small, crumbling factory in this remote, bankrupt valley, was revive the production of new color still and motion picture film under the old FILM Ferrania brand.

To do that, they had to overcome every single obstacle facing an analog industry in a post-digital economy. To get FILM Ferrania to the point where it could make even a single roll of film, Pagni and Baldini needed to rescale an assembly line designed for mass-market production to a tenth of its size, with a skeleton crew, patchy knowledge, dangerous and discontinued materials, and a bare-bones budget. They had to finance and engineer the relocation of huge machines from the original film factory buildings nearby to this smaller facility, all in the few months before the demolition crew tore down those other buildings. If they missed this narrow window, the chance to rebuild FILM Ferrania would be lost forever.”

 

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This Manhattan scene was photographed with film and edited digitally. (Fujicolor Superia, 1600 ISO) Photo by Andrew Hallinan.

 

“Big Boy was an imposing five-story windowless concrete bunker the length of a city block….We climbed the staircase and passed offices that had been frozen in time….The experience of walking through a massive, perilous, abandoned factory in the dark , lit only by flashlights, is fascinating and terrifying….

The computer room, which controlled the various precision systems, from heating and cooling to the chemical mixers, sensors, and the coating machine itself, was a return to Radio Schack circa 1991. The place ran on vintage IBMs, HPs, and all manner of beige DOS relics, most with floppy disk drivers, and few with anything more recent than Windows 95.

‘The formula for automated manufacturing is stored inside these computers,’ Pagni said….

Next we sifted through drawers of blueprints, formula binders, and stacks of microfilm, which contained all the pertinent information for the emulsions, machines, and the building itself.

‘If you lose these,” Pagni said, ‘you have nothing.”

 

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Cascades. (Kodak T-Max, 3200 ISO) Andrew Hallinan

 

There’s lots more in The Revenge of Analog. How people are sketching and writing longhand on stationery and in journals like Moleskines and other simple, utilitarian, or ornately luxurious journals and sketch books. I learned about the newly popular way to socialize by playing board games even as my husband and I discovered a fabulous board game café in Bend.

David also talks about the rise of smaller printed magazines and neighborhood newspapers, and how the sale of vinyl record albums is a thriving part of the music industry.

 

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I found this lovely radio/record player combination in The Vintage Moon in Bend. The radio works beautifully, after it warms up, but I need to track down a phonograph needle on the internet.

 

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My mom’s old stack of 78’s, featuring “Me and My Imagination” sung by Betty Brewer, Decca Records.

 

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Oregano, basil, and rosemary, by artist KJ Malony of @blueberry_hills. Kathy and I were college roommates and fellow English majors; she knows I always have these herbs in my kitchen garden. It’s been great to watch her grow and mature as an artist over the years, and to have these wonderful, handmade woodblock prints.

 

Do have any analog loves? Or a favorite book about an analog passion? Tell us in the comments. 

 

“We acquired a new team of Belgian horses from our friends the McIntoshs. Built a new woodshed and are working up twenty acres to plant early to a nurse crop of forage wheat as a shield for a mixture of Sanfoin, Alfalfa, and grasses. There are three seven-acre lands I also hope to have ready for spring planting. Of course, how well any of that goes will depend on winter weather. We have, over the last five years, experienced deep, long-term snow cover two years, and two years of open relatively dry and moderate weather, with one year of very cold temperatures. Time will tell what we are faced with this year. So the field work will have to proceed as these old bones and weather allow.” Lynn R. Miller, Small Farmer’s Journal, Vol. 42, Number 2

 

 

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“Smell of Lightning,” Lynn R. Miller

 

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The view out my office window. Hope the meditation rock will help with the writing.

Coming up on Books Can Save a Life: A cross-country move pretty much decimated my writing practice for a while, but I finally have a work space set up and the beginnings of a regular writing schedule. I’ll be posting here once or twice a month. I’ve a handful of books I can’t wait to share with you: FOUR memoirs, including Megan Griswold’s funny and smashing The Book of Help. I’ll be attending her reading at a local bookstore tonight. Dani Shapiro’s Inheritance, which is a New York Times Bestseller, made quite an impression on me. I’ll be writing about Steve Job’s daughter’s memoir, Small Fry, too.

I also read an exquisite work of nonfiction by Rebecca Solnit. (Of course, everything she writes is exquisite.)

Plus, I’ll tell you about two new, important books about schizophrenia and serious mental illness.

One more thing – after reading Cal Newport’s newest book, I’ll be trying out digital minimalism in the coming weeks. I’ll tell you how that goes and more about his book, which is changing how people use social media and interact with the internet.

 

19 responses

  1. So glad you have a writing space now! As for analog favorites, I have a nice collection of fountain pens and bottled ink that I use regularly to write real letters on lovely paper. I also have a manual typewriter.

  2. Val, so very interesting. I stay in the analog world by not owning a smart phone, or even a cell phone. Its challenging at times–often a business seeking to confirm my identity says, “we’ll send you a code on your phone,” with fewer and fewer alternatives. So be it. I’m happy not to be encouraging my own all-too-easily-aroused compulsions.

    While I’m a big fan of Cal Newport, I appreciated this woman-friendly review of his latest: https://lauravanderkam.com/2019/02/digital-minimalism-a-review/

    Glad you’re writing again! Me, too. I’m on a roll, writing personal essays, travel and expat articles. It feels great.

    • Louisa, I had no idea you didn’t have a cell phone! Well, in the book he gives plenty of examples of people going back to flip phones, and he even makes a few recommendations – there is now a Light Phone you can virtually “tether” to your iphone…..take it with you and all it does is text and phone calls when you are out…..Also says when Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone he did NOT envision people checking it dozens and hundreds of times a day….it was simply meant to combine the iPod with a phone….music and a phone, that was supposed to be it….and of course he and other Silicon Valley types did/do not permit their kids to have screens young…..these kids are carefully restricted…..Jobs also didn’t want crappy apps produced by others on his iphone…lol… Anyway, looking forward to someday soon getting to Mexico, and I’ve been enjoying your articles when I see them posted……

    • One other thing, which I’ll get into when I post about CN’s book, is the alarming rates of depression, self harm, etc in the iGen cohort – hasn’t been proven but there has been a huge spike and these are the kids that have always known life with smartphones and social media, etc.

  3. It makes me so happy to hear that you have set up your writing space!
    I spent part of February Break emptying boxes and moving furniture so that I can set up my drawing table in my studio. Years ago, when my friend Bill Fast saw his then teenage son playing virtual basketball on a computer screen, he said to him, “Let’s go outside and play actual basketball!”

  4. I used to develop my own film and print my own photos. I loved working in the dark room waiting for the images to appear but let’s not forget that the chemicals used to produce and develop film are extremely toxic and terrible for the environment. Anyone who’s lived in Rochester, NY will remember the huge plumes of exhaust rising over Kodak Park and the stench from the treatment plant on Maplewood Drive.

    • You’re right, and I’m sure they had the same issues in Ferrania…….and will have those issues if they don’t solve them. I’m wondering how much can be done to avoid that, or if it is just a losing battle given the chemicals….also, I’m sure working in dark rooms was not healthy.

      • I worked in a darkroom for many years as a young woman and it has never occurred to me that it may have had a detrimental effect on my health until I read these comments.
        I remember watching my colleague run the E6 processing line. He was always so particular about it and I guess that’s because people’s livelihoods were at stake. One of our clients was a photographer who travelled to the Galápagos Islands to photograph the giant tortoises. They were amazing photos and probably priceless.
        Very interesting post, and lovely to hear from you.

      • Margaret, I think those chemicals were a huge problem, and I wonder about the people who always worked in darkrooms and developed their own film. And as Michele my friend pointed out, Kodak and Roc had issues with pollution….I’m wondering if this practice can be preserved in a way that is safe, or if it’s a lost cause. I’ll be in touch!

      • I have to admit that I secretly love the smell of darkroom chemicals! Also, I love that you found a shop called Vintage Moon. That would be a good moniker for me!

  5. I still have all my old vinyl and it sounds soooo much better. Plus I always read tree books – can’t deal with the digital. I probably get most satisfaction from my art journaling which is a very physical thing. Digital has its uses as a tool, but I’m definitely an analogue animal! 😀

    • Yes, I always read tree books, too, but I never call them that! Love that! I think e books are great, especially for travel and elderly who can make larger print – I could never warm to it myself. I wish I could art journal, am trying to learn to do nature journaling. I think this is a good time to revel in the analog….thank you for commenting.

  6. My daughter, son-in-law, and grandkids (teens) all have record, excuse me I should use their word, vinyl, collections. 🙂 I don’t have any of mine left, but I do have lots of tapes of various types of family events made in the ’70-90’s just collecting dust in a cabinet. When I’m amassing thousands of digital photos I do remember the days of standing in line at the drug store to pick up my developed roll of film. My, our times have changed. 🙂

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