Analog, Digital and the Return of Analog

February 18, 2018

I still remember the first disc I ever listened to on my dad’s pick up: it was The Little Match Girl, a story which moved me profoundly. The story seemed unique both because of the message and the sounds the machine was making which resembled the very fire sparks the little girl was dreaming about.

Although they seemed obsolete at the beginning of the 2000’s, the pick-ups, cassette players and tape recorders are making a come back, uplifting the spirits in the houses of music lovers and not only and in the process, becoming part of the lives of younger generations, many of which not remembering the days when owning such a machine would attract the neighbourhood’s envy. And it’s not just the old-school music players which are back; film cameras, printed books, typewriters and many more analogue devices once presumed dead are now reclaiming their spots in the consumer’s hearts.

The question is why? Where does this resurrection of the analog come from?

We may trace back one of the reasons of this come back to Instagram, which currently has more than 800 million monthly users. Created to mimic both the effects of film photo cameras and the instant nature of the photography process (as the app’s name indicates), initially, Instagram got its fame thanks to a unique series of filters which could have been applied to the photographs. And so, the users got to experience the unforeseen desire to use the Sutro and X-PRO filter or a hint of vignette on any image posted. Fast forward from 2010, these filters have been declared passé because they clearly show that the images are actually impostor photographs which ooze an absurd creation effort.

Additionally, alongside the fact that up until 2016 the logo of the app was a pictogram of a camera with a retro look, there is another element which links Instagram and film cameras: #FilmIsNotDead, which, at the time of writing, had been used in more than 5.8 million posts of film camera lovers. So, thanks to an app, a new international community was born, which in the past, could have never gotten to this scale in what regards the number of users involved and their dispersion on the globe.

So, it’s not that surprising that currently film cameras seem to be winning ground. Some of the most well known analog models from the past years, Fujifilm Instax and Polaroid Snap, became instant (pun intended) hits among teenagers and not only. What’s more, in 2008, the last Polaroid factory in the world, based in Enschede, the Netherlands, was supposed to be shut down, but a group of entrepreneurs and fans of the brand managed to buy it, establish a new brand with an optimist name (Polaroid Impossible) and create a new type of film, which got sold in commercial chains like Urban Outfitters, a favourite shop of the 18-28 age demographic.

Another product presumed to be close to extinction, but whose story is not over yet, is the tape recorder. Having its production halted by many manufacturers at least two decades ago, the tape recorder received a second chance at the end of 2016, when the Swiss company Revox announced the premiere of a new model created in partnership with Horch House, a company founded in 2012 which boasts with the best analog master tapes. Also benefiting from the same encouraging fate, the pick-up (or the tournedisque), can now be found on the shelves of international mass-market retailers, among which are Fnac, Media Markt and of course, Urban Outfitters.

In this way, both the hard-core vinyl disc fans and the new and younger adoptive parents, from the Millennial generations, can enjoy discs which always contain a pleasant surprise, such as a flyer with the lyrics of all the songs on the album or a series of exclusive images depicting the artists – physical elements which consolidate the relationship between them and their fans and which do not have the same impact in the digital environment. Employing the same trick of the souvenirs, each 1989 album by Taylor Swift sold as a CD was accompanied by nothing else but a series of 13 images taken with a Polaroid, each photo being complemented with a handwritten lyric. However, it is interesting how the final result illustrates a hybrid between the analog medium, represented by the instant photographs, and the digital one, represented by the CD (acronym for Compact Disc, a form of storage based on binary logic, if I may refresh your memory).

Staying in the musical business, another singer who has embraced the analog medium is Lana del Rey, an American artist whose albums, starting with 2011, can be found online and also as vinyls and CDs. Moreover, her retro image of a pin-up girl matches perfectly with the nostalgic atmosphere of her music, which links back to the ’50s, as her videos also demonstrate (Video Games is a great example for this).

However, the return of the analog seems to contradict with the current situation in which on a yearly basis there is another launch of a smartphone, smartwatch and even smart fridge. In this whole new electronic paradise, in which the consumers are persuaded into buying bigger and more expensive products every year, how come e-readers have not made their way into more homes?

Everybody thought Amazon would destroy the industry of printed books when it launched the Kindle. And it’s no wonder since e-readers are able to store more books than we could ever have in our personal libraries, all with just an initial purchasing cost and with the recharge of the device few times a month. However, unsurprisingly, recent data shows that actually, in Europe and in the US, the consumption of printed books has gone up, the UK experiencing increases of almost 4% in comparison to 2015.

So, where does this passion for reviving the analog come from?

Is it maybe the nostalgia of the long gone times as Lana del Rey hints through her image and music? Is it maybe because we would like to slow time down in a society in which everything seems to be moving at an increasingly high speed? Or actually, maybe the problem is simpler and can be reduced to hipsters and the fact that there will always be people to oppose the mainstream. Or maybe the return to analog is the last chance some people have to feel that they are in control in the relationship with technology, which asks us to update our minds as quickly as our apps. Or maybe we are so crushed and stressed that we desperately want to relive simpler times, in which the wait to develop a film image was the emotional highlight of the day. Are we really that overwhelmed by our galleries made out of thousands of digital images and by our phones with 128 gigabytes of memory that we want to relive the unicity of the 36 film frames?

Well, maybe the answer is a bit of everything.

One thing is certain: society has reached a moment in which phones, tablets, laptops and phablets do not seem so astounding anymore with their blue light and continuous distraction risk, hence the trend of digital detox. It seems that we still appreciate the feeling of holding a physical book in our hand, the smell of freshly inked paper and the luxury of immersing ourselves in books without the bugging notifications at the top of the page. No matter how much we would praise the digital medium, we seem inseparable from materiality, from the unicity of each product which falls into our hands, either if it’s a book with a printing error, or an unintentionally scratched disc which will forever hold the memory of the causing event. Ergo it is certain that we like to feel as if we are the possessors of something unique, which cannot be taken away from us by a power outage or a software update.

However, I cannot not observe an irony in the Ying-Yang relationship between the analog and the digital: the fact that we can have on an Ipad a bizarilly similar experience to the 0ne of typing on a typewriter with the feature of editing and re-editing entire paragraphs, while having the possibility to send the typed document to anyone via email. Hanx, an IOS app, makes all of this possible. Additionally, the same paradoxical feeling is offered by Instagram, where under the umbrella of a hashtag about film one can find digital eulogies of scanned photographs.

After all, considering that the DNA of the digital is based on the analog medium, it should not shock us that by acting as a recessive gene, the analog has materialized (pun intended) again in our lives. And until we will assist at yet another genetical change of our technologies, my take on this is that we should enjoy music, films, books and photographs no matter (again, pun intended) what.

This article originally appeared in ELLE Romania, January 2018 issue, number 242

Photo by Peter Heeling, via

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