Ditch Digital; In Praise of All Things Analog

Smart homes, digital media storage and automated just-about-everything have their uses (I suppose), but simpler machines, media and more will always have my heart. Real talk: They’re also considerably more stylish.

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July 13, 2018

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When I was a magazine editor, my officemates nicknamed my cubicle the "Musee Mecanique" (after a San Francisco collection of ancient, coin-operated musical instruments and arcade machines). I was the only person on our floor — and might have been the only person in our tower — with a Rolodex, a raspy electric pencil sharpener and a pen-and-ink, hardcover daily planner.

I put all of those things to good use, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t appreciate their looks as well. I didn’t mind my reputation as the local Luddite — when our computer system or the shared Wifi went down, I still had everything I needed. Moreover, my workspace was awfully sexy.

As 21st-century consumers, we can opt into technologies that are almost laughably sophisticated and inexpensive (in a literal sense, anyway). Remember how much home computers used to cost, and how little they were capable of doing? My current laptop could probably puzzle out and file my income taxes in the time it takes me to feed my cat. Come to think of it, my laptop can probably feed my cat, too.

We can arm security systems, spy on our kids, fiddle with the HVAC and tend to our yards by pecking at our smartphones. Digital assistants can cue up our favorite songs, read us bedtime stories and call our nanas. Setting aside the question of whether or not they’re plotting our destruction, I’m confident that high-tech gadgets are draining our homes and our lives of warmth and soul.

Whether or not you’re with me there, I think we can agree that analog items make interiors sing — can we not? Consider the impact of "artifacts."

A digital scale in the kitchen: Kinda depressing, unless you’re a hard-core baker and need to measure ingredients down to the milligram (and if you are, please invite me over). A mechanical scale: More suited to display than measurement, but undeniably charming.

As the steampunk community would argue, it’s hard to go wrong with a phonograph horn — and this one, undulant as a cobra, is the best-looking piece in the room. It wasn’t Thomas Edison’s intention to reproduce sound with something that looked like a morning glory, but his favorite invention was also his loveliest.

That shapely contraption’s twin is equally elegant as part of a pop-art moment — in fact, it echoes and elevates the polka-dot wallpaper behind it. I’m going to go ahead and maintain that phonograph horns work everywhere.

From: Joe Human

While we’re on the subject of sound systems, it’s worth noting that record players and vinyl are superior to mp3 players in every way that matters, unless you’re climbing Mount Everest. To be honest, I’d rather have a turntable on Mount Everest, too. Can’t get enough of that warm sound.

Yeah, yeah, old-school albums takes up all kinds of space. I’ve already made peace with the fact that I’ll one day be crushed to death by my stuff — and that stuff is mighty handsome. As Adam Mansbach notes, "[Vinyl] is from a time when mankind respected music enough to insist that it be ornamented with art."

Vintage radios, in turn, are the secret ingredients in truly memorable dishes. Don’t believe me? Try making dinner while streaming a broadcast from your computer, then prepare the same meal with some old-school AM/FM pouring from a kitchen shelf as cooks did a generation ago. (Bonus points in this kitchen for midcentury chic.)

They’re also perfect accents for small spaces, and country goddess Miranda Lambert’s with me on this one: Just look at the '50s-era Bakelite Crosley tube clock radio she placed in her mom’s Airstream. True story: In some states it is actually illegal to furnish a vintage trailer without a proper radio. (Don’t fact-check that.)

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s nothing a massive patch of wall loves better than a clock. They are useful, they are beautiful, they are worth their weight in boring old Apple Watches (and yeah, that’s a lot of Apple Watches).

Joanna Gaines knows what I’m talking about. Can you imagine Fixer Upper without pieces like this? They’re up there with shiplap in her arsenal, for good reason.

Rehab Addict’s Nicole Curtis, in turn, knows the power of a stately old typewriter, like this gorgeous Underwood she found at an estate sale. Pieces like this restore the character ill-advised "updates" steal from historic homes.

I understand the siren call of the sleek, the cutting-edge, the all-in-one, I really do. Do these homeowners need an old telephone? No. Does it complete this scene? It does.

The allure of the analog could in fact be its impracticality: It asks us to slow down, to expend a bit of additional effort. It doesn’t sync or update.

Picture books your now-grown kids once dog-eared, the binoculars your dad brought along when he took you birdwatching — the cloud can’t store those. Secondhand objects with other people’s stories are even better: Who loved those things before you did?

I bought a vintage wristwatch on eBay a few years ago and ended up spending more than its purchase price on having its batteries changed — it needs three of them, and it’s almost impossible to open. It doesn’t count my steps and it can’t tell me when I’ve gotten a text message. It weighs a ton. I wear it every day.

Old, intricate things have no intrinsic virtue, of course — they’re just things. They can remind us — they remind me — to take my time. I appreciate that.

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