Review: The Revenge of Analog by David Sax

I first heard about this book while listening to Covered, an author interview podcast by the great Harry C. Marks. In this interview, David Sax, the author of The Revenge of Analog, really struck me as someone who knew his stuff and was passionate about telling others about it. To this point, Mr. Sax is a journalist and author who has written for the New York Times, GQ and many other publications. I read, or rather listened to it, over a period of about 10 days and spoiler alert, I really enjoyed it. I tried to listen to just a chapter or two at a time, to allow me to take it in without rushing through it.

In thinking about this book and how I wanted to review it, I thought it would be useful to share some of the things that I wrote down while listening to the author read the audiobook version. These are the things that stood out to me enough that I wanted to remember them by writing them down. I will focus on the chapters that really spoke to me rather than covering the entirety of the book. The book is called The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter, but could also be titled The Comeback of Analog. It really does detail how a wide variety of analog businesses and interests have bounced back in what he calls a post-digital world.

Introduction and Chapter 1 – The Revenge of Vinyl

  • In this new age of Amazon and other online retailers of goods, we are paralyzed by too much choice, too many options.
  • There is no room for serendipity, to discover new things completely outside of what we normally choose because the algorithms keep pushing more things ‘like’ what you just bought.
  • With these sites, you no longer wander the aisles of a store, allowing your eyes to be struck by a great book cover or unusual looking product.
  • Vinyl albums never truly went away, despite newer technologies putting a huge dent in the industry. He talked about a company that presses albums and all that process, super interesting stuff.
  • Details how the annual Record Store Day came about and how that has played a huge role in revitalizing the community around vinyl records. This particularly hit home for me since a good friend of ours named Beth took my 13 year old daughter to one of our local record stores (Ralph’s Records) and she had a blast.
  • I learned that the grooves and bumps in the vinyl are a physical translation of the music and the more complex the music, the harder it is to translate to analog.
  • I grew up listening to vinyl, cassette tapes and even 8 tracks, as that was all we had so this chapter was a fun trip down memory lane. I remember buying the 45 RPM singles and loving the B-sides as much or more than the featured track on the A-side. The first ever piece of music that I bought with my own money was People are People by Depeche Mode, on vinyl.
  • One of the reasons vinyl has come back so well is because listening to it is such a tactile experience, it engages nearly all of your senses. You look at the album cover and sleeve, you pull out the record and blow off the dust before putting it on the player. You hear the needle as it first touches the spinning album. This makes for a sensory experience, rather than just hearing a song.

Chapter 2 – The Revenge of Paper

  • All about paper notebooks and the rise of Moleskine.
  • Writing things down is a better memory tool than typing it due to how it engages more of your brain in the process.

Chapter 4 – The Revenge of Board Games

  • Board gaming struggled during the early 2000s as most games were copycats of others or were just reissues with pop culture branding. Think Star Wars Monopoly and Harry Potter Trivial Pursuit.
  • There is a huge renaissance in board gaming. Board game shops featuring game nights, knowledgeable staff and community focused events have helped tremendously.
  • Games like Ticket to Ride (our family favorite) and Settlers of Catan have led the way.
  • Board games on Kickstarter have been very successful

Chapter 6 – The Revenge of Retail

  • Customers are realizing that shopping in a store for certain items is a better overall experience. The ability to interact with expert staff leads to better choices being made. This is largely why my wife refuses to shop online for groceries and other household items. She enjoys the personal interactions with both store employees and other shoppers and she truly values the tactile experience of seeing, touching and sometimes even smelling the things she is buying.
  • We are not paralyzed by infinite choices as we have what is in front of us to choose from. More likely to buy something on a whim and possibly discover your new favorite thing.
  • Online retailers still losing money, despite all the innovation and supposedly low overhead.
  • The Internet will never have a ‘nice’ location.

Chapter 8 – The Revenge of School

  • Digital technologies in the classroom were supposed to improve education but it has not.
  • Adding iPads and laptops has actually introduced more distractions, hurting children’s ability to process and retain knowledge.
  • Taking notes by keyboard is far less effective for retention than handwritten notes.
  • Schools are now circling back to more tactile, analog tools for educating like Legos and hand-on learning experiences.

Chapter 9 – The Revenge of Analog in Digital

  • Adobe, the software giant behind Photoshop, offers mediatation time for employees
  • Facebook now has an internal Analog Research Division, creating print materials, posters, etc.
  • Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, requires meeting attendees to read the material being covered silently before discussion begins. No PowerPoint presentations allowed either.

There was much, much more in the book than what I have detailed here, but these were my thoughts while reading. I encourage you to check it out for yourself. I think it will give you a better appreciation of the analog things around you and the businesses behind them.