Adventures in Analog
I saw a dinosaur today. Okay, not a real T-Rex, but something close. A record store. Still confused?
Not an office building filled with walls of filing cabinets and folders of mind-numbing information. A record store where you buy vinyl discs that spin on turntables and make noise.
Millennials might know what I’m talking about. Apparently your demographic is fifty percent of the revenue in these analog retail stores of a bygone era. I was surprised by these stats. But hipsters seem to always be ahead of the cool curve. I digress.
If you’re forty and older, you know what these prehistoric music-makers are. I’m not forty (15 months away), but old enough to remember the oak cabinet in the living room filled with stacks of Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, and The Temptations, played through a giant stereo powered with a tube amp. My entry into real music.
Hard to believe less than thirty years ago playing vinyl was the only game in town. Rewind a couple more years and entertainment came through the AM radio in the form of cowboy stories and baseball games. Imagine families huddled around a radio in the corner of the living room listening to their favorite programs.
Not everything has always been instant and now.
So, seven years ago, I purchased my first turntable in twenty-five years, a stereo and amp from a garage sale, and a couple records to play.
My adventure into nostalgia started when a friend showed me his record collection in his office. He told me about three record stores recently popped up in our city. Huh? People buy records now, I asked? I then looked to see if a 1985 Delorean was nearby. No luck, this was real.
Apparently the hipsters and yuppies (former hippies) came together in a meeting of the minds and thought it was a good idea to bring back a geriatric form of listing to music. The sales numbers prove to be a wise investment. I’ve counted three more stores opened in the last couple of years near my home.
But what started as a mere curiosity and a hint of nostalgia has become a need. I’ve since bought a second turntable for the house so my family can enjoy the soothing sounds of analog music.
After a couple years of revisiting my new love of vinyl something else happened. I was finding myself turned toward the non-digital tools of our day and shifting to the tools of analog.
Paper notebooks and journals for taking notes in meetings, writing down ideas, and prayers. Yellow notepads for taking quick notes and setting reminders. Cards for writing notes to the people I love. Sketchpads for drawing. And buying less ebooks, and moving back to paper books.
Maybe I’m the old guy who longs for the days when life was simpler and Netflix was not a thing. Who knows, maybe this is my version of a midlife crisis, as I set aside MP3’s for dusty and scratchy vinyl that pops with each turn.
Not sure, but it’s becoming something I need. My life is busy and often moving at breakneck speeds. I spent the last forty days of Lent fasting from social media. Tired of scrolling and staring into a phone to see what Larry from high school was up to. I needed more analog tools and real human interaction. Novel idea, right?
I know Larry is a great guy, but joining the masses of zombies with heads planted in our phones was getting worrisome.
Maybe my old-man is coming out again and the digital world in which we live is an opportunity to yell and tell you to get off my lawn. I don’t think I’m cranky, but maybe my adventure back into vinyl, paper, and analog tools is a needed respite.
I’ll admit, sitting down with a vinyl record is good for my soul. It takes time to set up for listening to a record. Power on the turntable, power on the stereo, find a record on the shelf, give a quick dust off, place on the turntable, drop the needle, and adjust the volume.
Oh yeah, and get up from my seat every twenty minutes to change sides of the record. It’s work.
But important work. My life is always moving, instant, and now. Analog tools forces me to not just listen to music. It forces me to listen and absorb the music, and the art on the cover, and words of the song. Vinyl is a multi sensory experience which engages the whole person.
Digital files on a hard drive is not the same experience. Not to mention the sound quality is not even close.
The shift back to analog tools is not old guys longing for simpler times. Digital tools has made life easier and freed up time. But I wonder if doing things that take work is not all bad.
When everything in life is easy, or at least appears easy, is this always the best path? Maybe resistance and work is good? Maybe the extra time to write a handwritten letter to a friend is worth the time? Maybe the slowing down and putting pen to paper taps into a different part of us? Maybe our brains are wired for analog tools?
Board games with the family, making art with pens and glue, listening to records, making our own music with real instruments, developing film in a dark room, and writing our prayers and stories on paper with a pencil, and listening to a baseball game on the radio… nostalgic, hipster, or important things for tapping back into our humanity?
Analog tools and the shift back to the touch and feel and experience of real things is not all bad. Maybe what the soul needs most is not another Netflix binge marathon. Maybe what our hearts and souls long for is a walk through a book store with a loved one and a long and slow listening session with your favorite record.
But, I’ve got to go, my record just skipped.