David Sax wants you to look up from your computer
There’s something decidedly energizing about the message in David Sax’s latest book, The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter. Something that makes you want to turn your phone to airplane mode, grab a whiteboard, and start creating something amazing. It’s as the Globe and Mail put it, “at once the rediscovery of a lost treasure but also what is in fact a superior medium for life.” That “superior medium” is analog, and Sax’s book ruminates on how embracing the non-digital world – paper, pencils, that pesky thing called human interaction – can change your life.
We spoke with Sax about analog interactions in the job hunt and at work, and how looking up from your computer once in a while can make you more creative.
Workopolis: You write, “surrounded by digital, we now crave experiences that are more tactile and human-centric.” How can job seekers benefit from this surge of appreciation for analog?
DS: I think today, the real interactions are what stand out. If you can get in front of someone, you not only get to the parts about your qualifications and your education, and why you’d be suited for a role. You’re also able to hopefully build some sort of relationship through common experiences – maybe totally unrelated to the work part – that keep you in that person’s mind. Or, it might say something about your personality that you may not even realize is a qualification. Things that certainly wouldn’t make it to a line item on a resume.
We recently posted about post-interview thank you notes – another “real interaction.”
All those small thoughtful things, like sending out handwritten notes or cards, make so much more of a difference than just an email or a message. Because they’ll remember you. And then years from now, when they have something else or they’re in another role, they’ll be like “oh yeah, I remember so-and-so. She was a really thoughtful person.” It takes a little more effort, but it stands out against all the digital noise.
What about when you’re in the office? What kind of analog interactions should people be looking for?
Those moments when you’re not just officially working on stuff, but talking about things, gossiping about the other people in the office, patting someone on the back when they did something. At the end of the day, we want to feel as though we’re doing a good job and we want that reward that comes from the knowledge that others believe that as well. You don’t want to feel like you’re some mouse in an experiment being given the pellet of reward every time you do something good. You want that deeper appreciation that you’re valued.
You include a full chapter on Moleskine notebooks, and the power of physical paper. Do you think this analog medium makes people more creative?
When you look at a blank sheet of paper it’s like, “oh I can’t format it, I can’t change the colour or the font, or whatever.” But creativity thrives in environments where there are limitations. Finding a way through limitations is the essence of creativity.
Moleskine has successfully branded their product as a tool for creativity that is used by creative people. So no matter what you’re doing, you feel sort of creative in that way. If you’re at an accounting firm and you take notes in that, suddenly it’s like you have your creative ideas. It’s your creative space. It’s individual. Yours is going to be totally different from the person’s next to you. But your Excel sheet is going to be the same.
You also write about companies going to great lengths to get their employees away from their computers. Adobe banned Photoshop during the first week of a project, for example, and Google offers sketching classes for its UX and UI designers. Is analog a productivity tool?
Sometimes I think the best thing that digital can do is get out of the way. When I start typing at my computer, I can’t brainstorm. As soon as its on that page, it starts seeming real. It looks official. Whereas on paper, who cares? You can rip a page, throw it out, squiggle a line through it, draw notes. Maybe that’s sort of inherent to human nature, maybe it’s just how I am.
You explore the idea that it’s the “digital natives,” the younger crowd, that are embracing analog the most. Why is that? Is it novelty or nostalgia?
I think there’s some sense of nostalgia there – or at least an awareness that this is something of the past. But that’s not the driving force. My friend’s daughter who wanted a Fujifilm Instax camera for her ninth birthday has no idea that this is the way that people took pictures before digital cameras. So for her, it’s almost like a new technology.
For the twentysomething year old who has grown up largely with digital technology, but at least with a knowledge of analog things, is the pen and paper nostalgic? I think they’d be like “yeah, I grew up writing this way and therefore I just prefer it.”
So there’s also a pragmatic aspect to it.
I think the assumption with digital technology is that it provides a very powerful and convenient one-size-fits-all solution. And the reality is that, as humans, we buck against one-size-fits-all solutions. We’re all different. We all look different. We all talk different. Things work for us in different ways. So I think that largely that’s what it is about – people are, whether it’s for pleasure or productivity, adopting or re-adopting analog goods and ideas because it works for them. There’s not one solution, and even as digital technology grows more prevalent, analog is going to grow as well because it will stand out as something different.
David Sax’s The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter is out now.