Thursday, April 8, 2010

An Analog Boy in a Digital World

I was in film school at the dawn of the digital revolution. The talk then was all about the difference between film and video... how to shoot it, light it... This was in the years when if you turned a video camera and pointed it directly at a light you could burn out the tubes inside and ruin the camera for good... and these weren't the cheap cameras... they usually ran about $40K. So we were all very careful. My area of interest was as a cameraman, and I was rankled to have to fit my "art" into the confines defined by a video engineer. I was hardly alone in this and because of it, the look of video has never really taken off for professional projects. And except for a few "video" classes everything I shot was shot in film.

Even today a majority of television shows are still recorded on film. Editing was a different story... the digital revolution was massive for film editors. The silly practice of physically splicing film together was replaced quickly and nearly universally by digital editors. But except for some advances in true digital photography, film for shooting still rules as a recording mechanism in movies and TV.

Why this remains so is hard to describe to most people. But I guarantee that if you saw the results side by side, you would be able to tell. Even the best digital camera has a different way of light capture than a regular film camera. But things are changing quickly as we become more and more accustomed to the "look" of digital. HD TVs are so ubiquitous as to make "regular" TVs seem like dinosaurs. And digital still cameras have made film SLRs seems ancient for home use, and increasingly for professional use.

I've been thinking about all of this of late because I got a Kindle for my birthday. I had been oohing and aahing over a few friends who had gotten one for Christmas, so one magically showed up from Amazon for my birthday a few months later. As a man, I like me some gadgets. But as a well known bibliophile, I also love the feel and smell and touch of books. As with film, it is hard to explain to a non-believer why one would miss the feel of a book. But you do.

The logical part of my brain, which thinks about things like sustainability, knows that it is wasteful to cut down trees to continually make new books and magazines and newspapers, when it is faster and cheaper to deliver words digitally. And I have to say, it is pretty f-ing cool to be on a phone call with someone listening to them rave about a book and download it and start reading it before the call ends. I've done that twice already in my two months of Kindling. It is also cool to have 50 or a 100 or a 1000 books in my backpack without walking around like Igor.

Likewise, shooting family stills has gone by the wayside in a digital world. The photo chemical industry is in the toilet. Which is not a bad thing unless you are in the photo chemical business. Our kids will no doubt be so used to the look of digital that films and TV will eventually go that way too. And it is just a matter of time until e-book readers become so universal as to make hard copy production obsolete. The nay-sayers may say "NEVER"... but the writing is already there, and like all such sea changes, we end up looking like dinosaur hold overs from a different age... laughed at and mocked by the new generation.

And despite logic to the contrary, I will remain nostalgic for the analog world. I will remember the many hours spent changing film with my hands deep inside a light-bag, my hands touching the reels, and carefully and blindly feeding them through the camera. I will remain nostalgic for the look of grain in a world of discrete pixels... of lighting with your gut, and knowing that it was, at the very best, a guess... instead of a sure thing. And I will remain nostalgic for the book stores and libraries that will fade away by the time I die... and the feeling of being surrounded by the works of generations... a feeling I don't get when I hold the thin Kindle in my hand... even though it holds a whole shelf of books already.

Logic does not play well with nostalgia. Nostalgia is smells, and touches... heartbeats and fragments of memories. It is the emotion that we turn to when the antiseptic cleanliness of logic fails to move us. And after all, living is about being moved. And even while they laugh at me now for my nostalgia, the next generation will have their own list of things which will make them nostalgic, I'm sure. At least, I hope.


  1. I wonder if our children will have nostalgia for a Kindle? For digital photos? For computers? I wonder what's next?

  2. My kids make fun of me when I accidentally call our iPods Walkmans...

    Walkman! What's THAT??


    There time will come. IPODS!! What's THAT?

  3. My kids thought it was hilarious when I dragged out a huge box full of cassette tapes and vinyl record albums. I'm glad I'm too young to really remember much about 8-tracks or I never would have recovered my cool points.

  4. I will cry if books ever disappear. There is just something about the feel and the smell of a well-worn and well-loved favorite. Such a lovely smell. I can guarantee I will be one of people who refuses to move on.

  5. well made things - made by people and not made of plastic or...whatever. no wonder there is a backlash of handmade and homemade lately. of course the kids today react to it much like i reacted to homemade barbie clothes with my friends had store bought clothes...*sigh*

  6. @twills... my cool points expired long ago.

    @sara... I feel the same way... but time moves on even if we don't.

    @char... **hitches up pants** yep.. they don't make 'em like they used to.

  7. I've been wanting to smell a book, but I keep getting distracted by the letters...