Analog in an a digital age

Many of us find ourselves drawn to every new Apple product released–they’ve been coming pretty rapidly too. I blush to admit how happy I was when I got this MacBook Air to replace my five year old MacBook with the shorted power connection that made it effectively a desk top. Journalist Gordon Martin harbors no such longing for the new and the speedy. He writes his copy for Vatican Radio using a forty year old type writer, as Stuart Hughes notes at the BBC News Magazine.

In the age of social media and digital diplomacy, Gordon Martin is a resolutely analogue journalist.

“I don’t have a mobile telephone,” he tells me with a slight hint of pride. “I don’t understand a lot of modern gadgetry and I think sometimes gadgets get in the way of clear use of the English language.”

For the Holy See’s reporter in Geneva, replacing his typewriter with a laptop or an iPad would be tantamount to heresy.

After all, if it’s not broken then why fix it?

Is Martin a dinosaur or a visionary, a luddite or a prophet? In the age of Snowden, analog communication is looking significantly more secure than many of the electronic modes of communication we take for granted. As more journalists turn to Twitter and other social media for first person accounts the opportunity for news to become propaganda has increased exponentially.

Martin’s typewriter

More intriguing still is the relationship between technology and the act of writing and of reading. At the end of the day, writing is as much a physical act as it is a mental one. The way words are formed on paper or screen affects the experience of writing. That’s why some writer compose longhand and others use a laptop. Reading is much the same. For some of us, adjusting to a Kindle screen is taking rather longer than many thought possible. Others swear by their iPad or a computer screen.

Mediating these competing claims is difficult. Personally, I find analog considerably less distracting. A paper calendar is tactile in a way that’s just not true of iCal. A paper book has a texture and a smell that can be endearing. And in the end, that has to count for something.

And if you’re interested in an artistic critique of social media, check out this performance by Paul Sharpe of UNCSA:

One Reply to “Analog in an a digital age”

  1. Jeff and Fellow Readers,

    This post reminded me that I do prefer to write something on paper first before typing away at it. Thank you for the reminder.

    When I studied abroad in Costa Rica as a college student (egads! I just realized that was really 20 years ago this fall), I first thought about the assignment, then wrote it out in Ingles, then, using my trusty dictionary, translated it into Spanish, then typed it out. That was four steps while simply thinking-typing at the same time would have been one step. Your post is making me really take a minute to reflect on this process. I think there is more thinking involved when you have to write it out by hand. There is something about seeing it typed out that makes it seem kind of final to me. Meanwhile, anything written can be scribbled out and reworked with evidence of first and second drafts still visible.

    If a person is about to write something important, or that will be read by many people, it is probably best to have these extra steps in place to minimize buffoonery, or at least to be more intentional about buffoonery.

    (ironically, I thought-typed this post)

    Julie McElmurry


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