Anna Laug

She whispers promises of simplicity, of times spent together so slowly that I begin to hear my muse’s breath. And though she may be fickle at times, I can’t deny her sincerity nor her passion for the tactile pleasures of the old ways. Yes, this new mistress is tempting me with her alluring ways, and I’m going willingly down the old, familiar path.

This courting by an old friend is coming at a propitious time for me. As I’m delving deeper into pursuits of thought versus physical action, I’m noticing that I’m reversing my digitalness in favor of returning to the old, analog ways of doing things. And I’m not alone. There’s a buzz afoot for favoring analog approaches (loosely defined as doing something anti-digital, or at least, purposefully choosing a non-digital tool for a task or process) over submitting to the flood of digital devices spawned by manufacturers under the guise of “consumers need these things.” I seriously doubt that we actually need many of these devices, but admit to there being an allure to some of them, at least from the geek-toy angle.

In my case this transformation is showing up in some interesting ways. Yes, I’ve dropped my PDA in favor of a Day-Timer, something I haven’t used in at least five years. I’m back to reading newspapers versus catching the news online, and I’m noticing that I print out a lot of what I find to read on the ‘net instead of digesting whatever tips and news the piece offers by reading it onscreen. I’m returning to the much-beloved, but long-missed technique of highlighting significant passages and making penciled marginalia as I read. Digesting a bit of info for awareness works find onscreen, but reading something to learn (at least for me) requires holding it in my hand and making an orange-and-lead-grey work-of-art out of the page.

Now I’m no different than the pseudo-geek next door when it comes to gadgets, but I’ve become painfully aware that said gadgets are mostly entertainment: they don’t help me remember things any better than the old pen/pencil and paper methods, and quite frankly, I trust saving my valued notes invisibly in a PDA about as much as I trust politicians to fix the coming fiscal tsunami. Yes, I can lose a piece of paper, but I can’t remember the last time a paper note refused to yield its saved treasure because of a fatal exception. In all fairness, I still use my PDA to hold addresses and a password-protected list of the multitude of usernames and passwords that have become de riguer of digital life these days (but I do have a paper back up in case the PDA again becomes excepted, fatally). And sure, I can’t play Enya MP3s too well with a yellow pad, so there the PDA shines. But I don’t keep todos, memos, appointments, or even read ebooks on the PDA anymore. For all of those, I’ve climbed back into bed with my old friend, Anna Laug.

It’s easy to talk about going PDA-to-Day-Timer as a clear example of choosing analog, but it’s more than that. It’s about going for walks instead of watching TV, about doing things for the enjoyment of the process without emphasizing the tool used. And it’s totally about slowing down and becoming more present minded, more singularly focused. Multi-tasking is digital, doing things bird-by-bird1 is analog. Spending time wisely instead of foolishly is usually better served going analog. The obvious pattern here is that of returning to simpler ways, to a time when the value in a task was more the pleasure gained by the process (the journey) with less emphasis on completion (the destination). Sooner or later, if we listen, we all understand that’s how humans work best.

Faster is not necessarily better, anymore than a digital solution is automatically better than the traditional, or analog, way of doing things. I can spit our words furiously on my laptop, but those drafts tend to be mechanical. The tool takes over and my imagination tends to become secondary. Put a yellow pad and favorite pen in my hands and suddenly those sentences that were bursting to channel through my fingers and onto the screen have to pass a far more rigorous test before I commit the muscles and motions of deft fingers to give them breath and life between those thin rules on the crisp, canary-yellow canvas underneath. And nothing proves this analog way of writing is better than when I read the results of thoughts exposed on paper versus onscreen. The difference, like Anna Laug, is sheer beauty.

1Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, in which she tells of a time when her father helped her brother through a panicked moment over a school project on birds by imparting the wisdom of letting go of the pressure of the deadline and focusing on going “bird by bird” until complete.