The Last Analogs

DictionaryThe Last Analogs were born after commercial color TV (1953) and graduated high school before Mosaic (1993), roughly spanning from Steve Jobs to Larry Page.

Last Analogs like me grew up with VHS players, walkmans, card catalogs, newspapers, bunny ears, and film. We then watched as, inexorably, every last one of them winked from A to D. By 1993, the dawn of the digital age was ending, giving way to a blazing midday sun. Little did we know how thoroughly the Internet would shift the revolution into hyperlink drive.

Recently, a holiday card I sent to a friend was returned undelivered. He had moved and I had sent it to his old address.

It turns out I actually had the correct address filed away in an email folder — he had kindly sent it to me months earlier — and I had even tagged the email as “contact info”. Yet my address book failed to reflect it, mostly because my address book doesn’t read or process email, but rather expects me to do it.

This is an inherently Last Analog problem.

The new address books — the Facebooks and Plaxos of the world — solve the problem gracefully. On Facebook, I don’t keep my own separate copy my friend’s address; instead I keep a pointer to my friend and all his data and let him do the updating. My friend doesn’t need to email me and I don’t have to transcribe anything (or, in the early days, call and write), and repeat the same for all his friends. He updates his own information and everything else happens automatically.1

There are a ton of inherently Last Analog problems, including not knowing how much money you’ve spent in a month, how many calories you’ve burned or eaten, where your car or key or friend is, or where you are. A Last Analog could be living and working near an old college buddy and not even know it.

But perhaps the most unfortunate Last Analog problem is our impaired collective memory. Last Analogs grew up without the benefit of all the little digital trails that people now leave automatically as they go about their lives: the emails, twitters, geo-tagged photos, walls, groups, friendlists, and blogs that form a searchable, hyperlinked diary.2

For Last Analogs to catch up still requires considerable effort: for example, digging out old boxes of print photos and scanning and geo-tagging them by hand. Presumably even this process will become cheaper and easier, but in the meantime the online map view of my post-college European tour is fifteen years in waiting and counting, memories of metadata fading, and the slide show at my 20th high school reunion this spring will be only as complete as busy schedules allow.

Too bad the wayback machine doesn’t go that way back.

I guess its time to get over my First Digital envy and get to work scanning uphill both ways in the snow.

1Eventually, I shouldn’t have to bother with street names and zip codes either: I’ll just address the card to my friend’s unique identifier and the post office will take it to the right place. That’s assuming by then that I’m still sinfully sending cards through the postal mail.
2Even today, people delete too many gems. I encourage you to follow Randy Pausch’s advice and archive everything.

2 thoughts on “The Last Analogs”

  1. There are advantages to analog!
    A racecar driver glances down at his guages and only sees the needles pointing straight up; he doesn’t want to process digital information because he knows his brain does not have that luxury.

    What happens if you store in your digital file: “friend is a pain when drunk”? How does one store “lives at xxxxxxx but is married, so don’t send her flowers”? That should not be world readable.

    Recently some children were shown pictures of early disk drives and they didn’t know what they were. The world changes, often at a fast pace. I’m reminded of an old cartoon of a man with green eyeshades and a fountain pen sitting in a glass cage with a sign reading: Strike here if accounting department’s computer fails. Ofcourse, with Enron, WorlCom, Madoff, etc., maybe pen and ink and personal attention to details in a ledger book have advantages over digital storage.

  2. Archive everything?
    Remember the days of expensive memory and even rather expensive off-line storage devices?
    Error messages were numbers because the memory space to store a full sentence was too expensive.
    Archive everything? We used not to be able to even consider such a notion when tape libraries filled entire rooms and were sequentially read.
    What luxuries we have now?
    Or are there mixed blessings involved?
    If we rely on a ContactApplet to eliminate duplicate email addresses, will we lose the ability to fine tune something in a manner the program does not understand?

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