Wednesday, December 13, 2023

We grew up in such an analog world that the digital one can be a little jarring

One of my favorite subplots in the Harry Potter series is Arthur Weasley's continuous fascination with muggles (non-wizards). He is forever impressed by how they manage to live their lives without the use of magic.

I feel much the same way about the 1980s and 90s. How, I sometimes wonder, did we ever get by without today's technology?

The answer, of course, is that we did just fine. But there's no denying you and I have lived through – and indeed are still living through  a digital revolution that has transformed nearly everything. What we're experiencing is historic in its speed and scope.

I often think about the everyday gizmos and gadgets with which I grew up that are all but obsolete now. Cassettes, for example, are laughably ancient. So are paper maps. And the clock you kept on your nightstand with the little flippy numbers. And Rolodexes.

None of these things has completely disappeared, but they have mostly been replaced by faster digital alternatives. Whereas the old stuff was solid and physical, now so much is virtual. It "exists," but not in the same tangible way typewriters and landline phones and VHS tapes used to exist.

I often think about the early part of my career when I worked in newspapers. I was a print journalist right up until the end of the era in which editors would draw page layouts in pencil on pieces of paper. They would give these sketches to back shop folks, who would then take long strips of typeset text, run them through a hot wax machine, cut them into strips, and physically paste them onto large sheets of cardboard to match the editor's vision of the page.

That's how your daily newspaper was created. It seems slow and crude, but it worked.

Just as I got out of the business, it all went digital. I can't imagine how much faster and efficient it is now.

Time marches on and things change, of course, but the speed of that change in recent decades has been breathtaking. Day-to-day existence now is in many ways nothing at all like it was just 30 years ago.

To the point that I think our generation's experience of rapid technological change is unique in history.

I'm all for progress, but I do wish it would slow down every once in a while and let me catch my breath.


  1. I have an affection for every analog device you mention; cassettes, typewriters, landline phones, alarm clocks -- these were all fun to use and play with and tethered to a reality that somehow seemed more real. Thanks for helping me remember them.

    1. I'm with you, Peter. I don't necessarily want them all back, but I do miss them more often than I would have expected.