Thumbs Down on the Digital Revolution!

digital revolution

If this article touches a nerve – or gets you to TOUCH anything – then it has succeeded!

I think our society is collectively overdosing on the digital revolution. I’m not a digital Luddite – I use my share of apps. I’ll admit that I can’t get from the end of my driveway to the garage without Google Maps. But all this digital stuff feels like we’ve collectively forgotten that we’re analog human beings. In this digital app, on-demand, streaming-everything era, we’re trying to fit our round analog butts into square digital holes. We’re not digital. We need to touch. We need to hear a child’s delicate whisper or see a lover’s smile. We need stimulating, five-sense experiences – analog experiences.

I find it sad to see most of the crowd at a football or basketball game pecking away at their cell phones, which also seems to be the preferred modern way to eat dinner with friends, watch movies and attend school plays. In the Museum d’Orsay in Paris a few years ago, I found several hundred people, backs turned to the painting, jockeying for selfie positions in front of Whistler’s Mother!

What’s truly heartbreaking for me is what we’ve done to our children. Some teachers have taken to collecting phones and placing them in clear plastic bags that they carry around their waists. These children have such separation anxiety that they can’t function if their phone isn’t within sight. And we wonder why more and more of our children are fat, lonely, depressed and suicidal. Constantly connected, yet truly disconnected. Hundreds of virtual friends but incredible loneliness. In extreme cases, some find it difficult to converse and look another in the eye.

The lunacy in our industry, industrial automation, is equally maddening. We’re collecting data by the bucketful (big, terabit bucketfuls). And mostly, it’s going to waste. It’s not normalized or scaled and the units are unknown – cloud companies are making fortunes managing these digital garbage dumps. Some 60-70% of IoT projects fail, but we’re still being told that our choice is digital transformation or bankruptcy.

But the analog world is fighting back. An interesting book on all this is Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter, by David Sax. Sax details how real film is back. Young filmmakers have discovered the richness, depth, and color of the honest-to-goodness film. He describes how Millennials are now discovering the superior sound, fidelity, and crispness of analog music. And how LP albums and stereo record players are selling again – check out the YouTube videos on how to put a needle on a record. Paper – paper of all things – is being rediscovered. The lost art of penmanship, and the superior thinking that arises from slowing down, putting a fine pen to a crisp, white page, is resurgent.

I hope that we can build a world where we don’t abandon the physical for the digital, where we don’t abandon touch, face-to-face conversation, and the value of sharing space with another human being. That’s the world we need to pass on to our children.