Journalist David Sax on the rise of analog in a digital age

david sax

The recent #firesideconf gathered 80 CEOs, CTOs, devs, and tech enthusiasts for a weekend without Wi-Fi, filling the gap with interesting speeches and unlimited booze instead.

One of the many talks that took place that weekend included one from David Sax, a Toronto-based journalist and author. He’s contributed to publications like Vanity Fair and New York magazine, written a book on the decline of Jewish delis and the case for saving them, and is currently working on a novel called The Revenge of Analog, which will be published next year, in which Sax argues that technologies that are supposedly obsolete eventually return with a renewed purpose (Sax has covered this in some detail in a New Yorker piece entitled Why Startups Love Moleskines.

“There are companies taking steps to create more analog interactions. When you have people sitting at computer terminals, you never talk to each other. What’s the point of having you together?”

At #firesideconf, Sax talked about what exactly he means when he says we’re living in a world where the ‘revenge of analog’ is among us. “It’s the realization that as the world becomes more digitally enhanced, as we interact with the world in a more personalized and professionalized way through digital means, analog things have changed their value,” he said. He gives the example of the vinyl record’s recent rise in popularity. “People are buying it because it gives them something, it gives them a tangible experience,” Sax said. “We can dismiss them and say they’re Luddites, yet many of these people work in the tech industry or use technology, but they crave something deeper.”

Sax said that this desire for tangible experiences is the reason why Apple has the most sales per square foot in the United States. Things like the design, the community, and the experience of walking into a store and touching products gives customers an experience that can’t be found from buying the same products for a cheaper price on Amazon. E-commerce companies are opening up brick-and-mortar stores because, while it makes sense to have an online store where you don’t have to pay for employees or real estate, people will always turn to physical stores.

An inherent craving for analog also means that, in the startup communities where people are the earliest adopters of new technology, you will still find the ping pong tables and yoga classes; no technology can replace the experience of community. “It’s important for productivity and it’s important for building a sense of community both outside of an organization and internally,” Sax said. “There are a lot of companies which are now taking steps to create more analog interactions in the workplace, because your jobs remove you, and when you have a bunch of people sitting at computer terminals you never sit and talk to each other,” Sax said. “What is the point of having you together?”

No matter how far the world comes in advancing technologies like IoT or the cloud, Sax said that technology will never replace the physical experiences that are part of being human. “The point is, at the end of the day, we always talk about the fact that we’re living in a digital world. We’re living in a digtal era. But we’re not,” said Sax. “This is not a digital world. This is a rock spinning eternally in space. We are flesh and blood and ocasionally we use digital devices to interact with that world, but 99 percent of the time, we’re real people in the real world. And that will always be analog.”