By Shawn Stjean
If only that were true; but the signs are there. Signs that a few people yearn for a more authentic, true, immediate, and visceral experience, and that the shadows and echoes we’re being served don’t quite satisfy us. I mean, why struggle through Paradise Lost, Homer’s Odyssey, or The Grapes of Wrath when you can get the Wiki-version, or better yet catch a Simpsons‘ parody? When was the last time a movie gave you joy? Follow-up: Good for you. How much CGI did it have?
Somehow, people still wear faced wristwatches–not because they are in a hurry, but because the object emanates beauty: through design, precision, aesthetic qualities. They still search the night sky, with their naked eyes. A few even read, in their best if flawed voices, to their children.
Let’s not forget that both analog and digital are recording technologies–rather than see and hear a live performance (a play, concert, reading, interview, and so on) we get the convenience of having it to experience, not live, but at our leisure. This usually means, of course, that we’ll be doing it alone rather than among a crowd–or with far fewer people around, at any rate. I will never forget attending a screening of Eastwood’s Unforgiven at Red Rocks Amphitheater on a hot July night in Colorado, along with three thousand other people, under an open canopy of stars. That experience ranks second only to my eleven-year-old self seeing the original Star Wars in the local theater–never has a film received a standing ovation and cheering, in my memory, by an audience of adults, reliving their childhood enthusiasm for right over might. However, these experiences pale in comparison to getting one’s chest thumped at a Bachman Turner Overdrive or Blue Oyster Cult show in a small club and amusement park, respectively–those were rehearsed and orchestrated, of course–but they sure weren’t Memorex. They were live, baby.
And I have held pen-and-ink manuscripts more than one-hundred years old in my own hands, at the risk of them falling apart, to study the past, and pass on what I discovered. I could not be present at the crucifixion of Christ, but I have the Pieta and the New Testament.
I won’t wax nostalgic about analog recording, which is being brought back most recently in the form of 180g vinyl LPs of many popular, classic albums. Yes, there was tape hiss–hell, there was tape breakage. Records are delicate, and they scratch. Film gets exposed, or deteriorates. Paint chips; sculptures erode; and readings fade into memory. But you have to realize that digital recordings, even more so, are from the moment of creation MISSING SOMETHING. The dynamic range is clipped off at the edges, compressed–the warmth goes away, and portability doesn’t come free: we trade away what used to be called “Hi Fidelity”–and fidelity, in its primary definition, means Truth. It can be experienced authentically as a thump in your chest–but today, what is absent in the sound wave is substituted for/covered up by more power and volume.
This phenomenon is not confined to music and movies (they used to be called “films.”) Your money has been digitized: what was once a barter of labor or product for something of like value, was substituted for precious metal, later non-precious metal, then paper, and now a bunch of ones and zeroes in a computer database. It earns interest at perhaps one-quarter of the inflation rate, which means it’s shrinking all the time. Furthermore, this compression and convenience has resulted in the fact that one man can hold a billion times more money units than his neighbors (this could never happen under a barter system.) And you can now spend your whole roll from your chair, at places like Amazon. Your friendships have been digitized: so much so that many of us prefer a text message to a phone conversation, which is a bastardized version of a visit. Don’t even mention writing letters. Your very identity is in the process of being digitized–don’t think it isn’t. You, the sum total of tens of thousands of years of human evolution, can be represented by a bar code. You’re being tracked and profiled by traffic cameras, GPS chips, your phone, advertisers, and the IRS. And you are either a one or a zero: dangerous or harmless, a lead or not a lead, worthy of further scrutiny, or not.
Digital means two choices only, no gray: Black or white. One or zero. The TV reception is either there, or it’s not. You’re wise, or a fool. Female, or male. Rich, or poor. Good, or evil. Successful, or a bum. See the limitation? Analog may mean static, inefficiency, gradual loss, getting old, warped, dirty, wrinkled. But you’re still there.
When we turn off the television, in our moments of sanity, and insist on HANDWRITING a note and READING a paper book, PAINTING and DRAWING, shooting PICTURES, conversing on the PHONE, we’re doing analog, one step closer to revealing how much we’d prefer to be TALKING, ARGUING, STEERING, WRESTLING ON THE GRASS, THINKING FOR OURSELVES, PLAYING BALL, HAVING SEX, USING INSTRUMENTS or otherwise PERFORMING and LAUGHING (a.k.a. living.)
Otherwise, it’s which are you? Harmless, or dangerous?