What is it about the analog world that now seems so beautiful? Is it simply nostalgia? Or are these great work machines and tools truly beautiful? There’s certainly something to be said for space-saving in this increasingly cramped world. But I can’t help but wonder if the fact that everything is now so tiny, so compact, so microscopic that we aren’t in danger of feeling a great distance from the workings of our world and maybe the ability to change them for the better at times.
And there are other things we’ve lost, and they’re not simply aesthetic — for instance, the ability to pop up the hood of our car, and take a peak and correct a slight imbalance or funny whir. My grandfather kept himself busy well into his 90s tinkering with and restoring old VW Beetles and it often seems to me that he was the better for knowing how. That’s not something you could do with Volkswagens any longer. They’re so micro-digital engineered that you can’t replace a light bulb on your own without voiding a warranty. Which makes me wonder: are they the “people’s car” any longer?
Some things perhaps, have improved. Right now I’m writing this piece on an envelope thin computer and am able to transmit my words across the globe with a couple clicks. No envelope required. No permissions required. Never mind the ponderous clack-clack of a typewriter, the frustration of an incorrectly hit key. These are all behind me. I never even had to learn to type properly.
But is that convenience necessarily good? There are some who would say, that that’s exactly why the level of writing is so poor these days. Too many people can sit down and convey their thoughts across the globe without pause or review, let alone editing. Is that good, or is that bad? In some ways it’s less elitist and more democratic.
So why, when I see a typewriter like the one above, do I feel such a surge of emotion?
The fact is I’m certain I would write, regardless of the tools I needed. And in fact, whenever I get blocked, I leave behind all digital devices and pick up a pen and paper, and start to organize my thoughts, write lines of dialog, actions, stray passages, the way I always did. Some of my best ideas come out of this process.
But would I shoot? To me that’s a more interesting question. I love film. The quality, the vagaries of the end result can be indescribably beautiful. However had I started out in film I might have given up. Personally I don’t want to spend hours in a dark room. I know what I want and I usually get to see whether I’ve got it instantly. But is that a good thing?
To me a great photo is a great photo. You can tweak a shot in Photoshop, but if the composition isn’t there, it isn’t there. It’s not something you can make up for later. And yet, I greatly admire photographers like Ara Güler and Henri Cartier-Bresson who shot long before anybody even thought of plumping up pixels. Are they more noble for sticking with their craft, with all its uncertainties, for producing such great works under more trying conditions? Perhaps.
I often wish that I’d started to take my own photographic ambitions seriously in the era of film, to know whether or not I’d have stuck with it. But the truth of it is, most professional photographers I know and have worked with have now given up on film, something which seemed almost unthinkable a decade ago.
Then there’s music. Have the CD and subsequent mp3 improved music, or destroyed it? They certainly seem to have all but destroyed the concept of the LP. It used to be that we would listen through an entire album. I don’t know about you, but one of the joys of sitting through albums was that each one had immediate hits, and then smaller more subtle songs that would grow on you over time. Also the arrangement of tracks and the tempo of each made an album. When CDs emerged I stopped listening through an entire album. If a song didn’t grab me immediately. I’d click the remote.
Albums no longer seem relevant, and most ‘artists’ don’t seem to bother the way they used to. My biggest problem with mp3s, though, is the quality. They are quite simply not as dynamic as CDs. I’m told that a good stylus on vinyl is still superior to a CD, but in that case, however, I’m not sure I have an ear that can discern. It wouldn’t surprise me, though.
What do you think? Has convenience killed beauty? Are we spoiled by our disconnection from the objects that serve us? Are invisible beams superior to the tangible, tactile world of analog? And what about mix tapes? Remember mix tapes? Does the gift of a mixed CD have the same romance for you?