Analog, Digital, and Progress?

Happy Wednesday, dear readers! I hope your day is going well. We continue to have rather gloomy weather in the Bay Area, but it is also spring break so it all evens out in the end. Today I want to talk a bit about the analog versus digital, digital immigrant vs. digital native debate. This isn’t what I planned to write about today, but it is what I need to write about today or I’m never going to get the conversation points I was thinking about yesterday out of my head.

So analog versus digital. It’s kinda an overdone, oversimplified dichotomy, no? But this week, it seems to have come up rather frequently in multiple venues. (Bear with me, I’ll bring it all back to the libraries and archives in just a bit.) First there was the rather wonderful episode of Bones, The Blackout in the Blizzard. The bit with the microfilm reminded me of one of my fellow interns at the archives in Boston who was a huge proponent of eye-readable media and didn’t go for any of that “digitized stuff.” When the power goes out, you can still read microfilm so I suppose a point should go to analog in this case.

But the real reason I wanted to try to work out some thoughts about analog and digital is due to a conversation I had yesterday about digital natives. Apparently I missed the discussion on Twitter yesterday about digital natives (not surprising considering I was running around trying to get everything lined up for next quarter), so we discussed it during the afternoon tea break (not to worry, the tea break does not occur in the archives). The conversation made me think, always a good thing. One of the things that came up was the thought that digital natives consider digital solutions before analog ones and have a different mentalité than those of us who are digital immigrants. Okay, I’ll buy that for the sake of argument (even if I think the dichotomy is partially socially constructed). But is thinking of a digital solution to a problem necessarily progress?

In some regards, I would say yes. Some things are way better in digital form. Take searching old university catalogs if you are an archivist doing reference for a remote researcher. It’s much easier to search online than flipping through pages and pages of stuff. But for other things analog, though older, may be better. In a similar example, actually thinking of going through old catalogs to find information for finding aid notes if the information isn’t online instead of giving up and declaring the information to be unavailable. Or, in an example close to many people’s hearts as it is income tax season in the United States, check out Lifehacker’s article on how to send documents securely to your tax preparer. Hint: give them to the tax preparer in person. Like many things in life, digital didn’t make all of life easier, instead you just need to know and be proficient in finding information and solutions in multiple mediums.

Now, obviously I’m not a technophobe and do honestly believe there have been shifts in thinking and reasoning patterns due to the ubiquity of digital technologies. But I don’t think we should think of it as a zero sum game, or having to get rid of one to make room for the other. In other words, I think it is a false dichotomy, or at least an oversimplification and generalization to have analog pitted against digital or a “digital native” against a “digital immigrant.”

To end on a more positive note, because you know it can’t be all doom and gloom on this blog, yesterday’s conversation reminded me of Seth Godin’s recent blog post, Bring me Stuff That’s Dead, Please. Just because something isn’t the newest and shiniest thing to hit the digital (or analog) world, doesn’t mean it is dead. It just means, as Godin notes, that those thinkers, ponderers, and people that do the actual work have the time and experience to now really reflect and leverage the technologies. And that, my dear readers, is where the really fun stuff begins.

So to me, in the end, it isn’t about digital versus analog, it’s about what is the best tool for the job at hand and whether or not you have the experience and knowledge to actually know what is the best tool. Because progress is made by those who are fearless, experiment, and are open to incorporating new ideas into their knowledge base without throwing everything else out with last year’s technological bathwater.

I’m off my soapbox now. But I’d love to hear your thoughts about digital v. analog and digital native v. digital immigrant. I’m always up for conversation.

To end, here is this great video sent to me by one of my colleagues. If cats in an IKEA store don’t make you smile, I don’t know what will.

Have a fantastic rest of your day and I’ll be back on Friday (hopefully) with some more technology news and thoughts.