Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Why 33⅓ rpm beats 160GB

If you found some sort of digital gadget among your Christmas presents yesterday, how did you feel? Overcome by excitement, or weary at the thought of having to plough through yet another instruction manual?

In today’s Guardian, John Harris argues that a revival in the sales of vinyl albums is a metaphor for a growing anti-digital rebellion, part of broader yearning for authenticity and human scale.

The evidence can be found not only in record-buying but also the Slow Food movement and a growth in the sales of craft beers at the expense of cheap lager. Books and magazines (the printed sort) were supposed to die out, yet sales are booming and reading groups thriving. Digital TV gives every viewer (even those with the minimum choice offered by Freeview) access to hundreds of channels, yet the five formerly analogue TV channels (BBC1, BBC2, ITV1, Channel 4 and Channel 5) combined still attract over 50% of audience share. Plans to shut down analogue radio may be abandoned because of people’s stubborn attachment to analogue.

People are not rejecting digital technology (or any other technological change) per se but are responding to more fundamental issues:
  • superficiality, in which depth of thought and learning is replaced by a cacophony of stimuli and distractions;
  • impatience that never allows time for focus or contemplation, and which expresses a childlike inability to understand the concepts of deferred pleasure or acquired tastes;
  • instant redundancy, so that this year’s ‘must-have’ gadget will be hopelessly outmoded next year.
The objection therefore is not to change or progress but to shallowness and a frantic pace.

The Liberal Democrats’ most creative thinker David Boyle wrote about this trend eight years ago in his book Authenticity: Brands, Fakes, Spin and the Lust for Real Life. He points out that this is not a conservative trend, still less a Luddite rejection of all new technology. It is about feelings of alienation, a reaction against technological determinism and a belief that technology should be human scale and serve human needs.

If you agree, there is something you can do. Now that you’ve read this, switch off your computer and go and read a proper book.

1 comment:

  1. Not only redundancy in the sense of disposable technology, but also wrt ownership and accessibility. Most organisations have already had to deal with redundant technology (I still have a box of outdated tapes and floppies which are impossible to read) and the loss of control.

    The problems suffered with cloud storage when the vendor withdraws your content (yes - amazon and kindle) are affecting ordinary consumers.

    There is something rather nice about a system that you are confident is going to work next year.


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