Wednesday, May 03, 2017

A Review "Revenge of the Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter"

In 1989, I spent hours playing "Think Quick" on my father's new computer (the Atari got put aside to investigate this new game fought out on keyboard instead of joystick). This adventure/learning game captured my attention. It was the dawning of digital for me personally. It promised adventure, excitement, and the thrill of victory. I mastered the game, tasted sweet victory, and now almost 30 years later, I wonder if I was the thing mastered, if the technology took more than it gave, if it over promised and under delivered?

These are the running concerns in David Jax's 2016 work Revenge of the Analog. Jax's journalistic talents show up throughout the book. You feel the tension of the digital download generation. You feel the sense of lostness in a world of constant streaming sound. Soon you too see the hope of owning a record player, touching the plastic mold, marveling over the album cover, and placing that needle carefully upon the record so that sound flows forth.

Jax includes the insights of technology gurus such as MIT Professor Sherry Turkle who observes, “It [technology] promises friendship but can only deliver performance.”

He takes you on a tour of the famous Camp Walden, where technology is still nearly banned for weeks of a kid's summer. Then, he askes the Camp director why technology is at odds with the purposes at Camp Wadlen. “[Sol] Birenbaum [head of Camp Walden] didn’t hesitate to answer. ‘We look at the heart of what we do, and it is interpersonal relationships.’” (page 236, epilogue)

Sure, the iPhone has it benefits, but to bow before its (near-idol like) promises and power can only mean a loss of humanity. Life was meant to be felt, shared, and experienced with human persons. Or as Jax explains, “Ultimately, analog pursuits connect us to one another in a vastly deep way than any digital technology can. They allow bonds to form in real time and physical spaces, which transcend language and our ability to communicate with just words and symbols.” (239, epilogue)

Jax's book is a fun tour of several aspects of life (schools, work, music, games, films, etc.) that all show that digital cannot and should not be received without a wary eye. What Jax's book lacks is thoughtful theological and philosophical reflections on why digital doesn't satisfy (Turkle is one of the few exceptions).

For those looking for deeper answers than a journalistic tour of the world, you'll need to turn to the likes of Neil Postman's classic, Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985) or Jacques Ellul's The Technological Bluff (1990). And there's a fantastic new book (2017) by Tony Reinke (don't let the less than thrilling title fool you) Twelve Ways Your Phone is Changing You.

Here are a few nuggets to encourage you to read Reinke's book:

 “What if the rhythms of Snapchat selfies and our star-studded Instagram feeds are exposing the dimness of our future hope?”

“The clicks of our fingertips reveal the dark motives of our hearts, and every sin—every double-tap and every click—will be accounted for.”

Jax's book is a fun snapshot of culture. It's the other books that better ask and answer why culture and souls cannot find hope or salvation in the promises and patterns of digital living.

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