The180

Shelve the vinyl: you're a digital citizen

180 producer Manusha Janakiram digs deeper into her questions about living life on either side of the digital divide. She learns that participation in the digital world is a civic and moral duty.
(CBC)

Analog is back. Vinyl, film photography, typewriters, the list goes and on. There's even a book (and an *ahem* e-book) on the analog resurgence. 

But 180 producer Manusha Janakiram doesn't quite understand the trend. And it's not because she hasn't A/B tested Kind of Blue on vinyl and cd. She has. She finds flipping the record disruptive to her dinner parties.

So she recently asked you, our listeners, to fill her in on what she was missing.


What you had to say about your flight to analog:

Sue in Ottawa writes:

Don't laugh, but I've gone way back to Gutenberg in the analogue era. I left a well-paid job in the government as a web officer so that I could learn about letterpress printing. I love the s-l-o-w aspect of printing; setting type by hand, preparing the lovely cotton paper, inking up the press. I love the deliberate nature of each step in the process; and I love how setting type becomes a contemplative action, giving meaning to language, which for me, had become simply "chatter"....I'm still quite active on social media, or rather, too active. Lately, I've decided to step away from the frenetic pace, the blue screens and the news-addicting aspects of my smart phone. I find it leaves me too agitated, unable to sleep well. For example, today was supposed to be a screen-free (and, incidentally, a Trump-free) day until I heard your show and felt the need to share my story.

Megan in Jasper said:

Listening to this on my smart phone was the best use of my device all day....although if I'd been listening live on the radio in my manual transmission car it would have been a superior experience. Analog is better every time!

Stephen in Vancouver sent in this:

Old world tools and equipment tend to have a single intended use (though there is room for improvisation, of course - a book is meant for reading but can still whack a spider or prop open a door) and the form helps to remind you what you are doing. If I hold a pen and a sheet of paper then I am probably writing something. If I pick up my phone it will almost immediately bleat and blink at me with distractions and if I succumb for a moment then the phone I hold is no reminder of the task I grabbed it for - it could be that I was going to write a message, call a friend, play a game or watch videos. When in doubt the brain chooses "watch videos" and another day goes by without that letter being written.


The overwhelming pattern, for those of you who skimmed through this on your digital device, is that people feel digital is often distracting and cluttered, whereas analog is simpler, more authentic, and thus superior.

Aimee Morrison, University of Waterloo professor, sees an irony in the current flight to analog. (Twitter/@digiwonk )

'A past we're misremembering'

But that simplicity for Aimee Morrison — a professor of social media at the University of Waterloo — is rife with nostalgia and irony.

"When I was in university, I had a giant stereo...it had speakers that needed their own box, a receiver, a five-cd changer, but also a double cassette player because I had probably three milk crates of cassette tapes and then another milk crate of cd's. It was heavy. We used to feel the material-analog world was heavy, and cumbersome, and too noisy, and had too many people in it. And the flight to the digital seemed to simplify things. We could have all the songs on a tiny device that could fit in our pocket. We could go online, and not put pants on, and only talk to the people we cared about, we wouldn't have to move all these milk crates everywhere we went."

So the move back towards analog is both nostalgia for a past we're misremembering - the easier and simpler time. We all went online to make things easier, and now we're leaving online to make things again a little bit more narrow, a little bit more straightforward, a littlemore limited because we're overwhelmed by everything.- Aimee Morrison

For Alexandra Samuel  — a self described "digital explorer" — the problem with the notion of authenticity is that it's a result of the false dichotomy we set up between analog and digital.

Technology writer and researcher Alexandra Samuel argues for people who are disillusioned with their digital experiences to stay online and help improve that digital space. (Submitted by Alexandra Samuel)

"Before the invention of the internet, did we view everything in the physical world as of a piece? The analog world is many different people, many different things, many different experiences."

I refuse to believe that there is something more authentic about pushing a cart through Walmart than there is in participating in a conversation about the latest Booker prize winners on GoodReads, and yet one is physical and analog, and one is digital. So it's a ridiculous dichotomy.- Alexandra Samuel

You can make the digital world what you want it to be. 

Alexandra Samuel says, "certainly our struggles with the digital are intensified by our perceptions that there are two classes of people: the tech-makers who create the technology and the tech-takers who just use the computer as the IT system hands it to you or as you got it at Best-Buy of what have you. But the reality is that we all have the potential to be tech-makers to different degrees. That doesn't have to be mean programming at all. It just means actively engaging with your technologies, making choices about how you configure and use them, and possibly also setting up various kinds of tweaks that allow you to have more control about how your tech works."

While the average person might feel overwhelmed by that, Samuel says the best place to start is to ask yourself one question: how do I want this technology to work for me? 

Morrison agrees with Samuel, and contrasts it against the way most of us use our technology, which in her view is without any intentionality at all.

We're frittering away a lot of time because the devices and the notifications are beckoning to us. We're not really making conscious or intentional decisions- Aimee Morrison

So instead of just scrolling mindlessly through your Twitter, or Facebook or Instagram feeds, Morrison and Samuel advocate for being online in an active and thoughtful way.

Lindy West, known for her resilience in staying online despite the trolls, quit Twitter in January. (Jenny Jimenez)

But what about the Twitter hate machine?

It seems idealistic. Think of Lindy West, who quit Twitter at the beginning of January after five years of trying to fight back and mitigate the harassment she faced online.

If she gave up, why should you stay? And why should anyone else join?

Samuel refuses to concede digital territory to racism, misogyny or any other kind of hate  — so does Morrison for that matter — with Samuel suggesting that all too often we focus too much on the negatives of the digital world and not enough on the benefits.

Unless we pay attention to what's working, we're going to miss this and leave it in the hands of people who aren't thinking critically at all- Alexandra Samuel

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