An exploration of millennial fondness for old technologies and its implications for a competitive business landscape.
Toronto-based journalist Sax (The Tastemakers: Why We're Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue, 2014, etc.) became curious why peers in his tech-focused circle were buying turntables and Moleskine notebooks: “Certain technologies and processes that had recently been rendered ‘obsolete’ suddenly began to show new life….Every week I’d walk down the street and find a new boutique focused on an analog pursuit.” Structurally, the author relies on the titular conceit of cultural “revenge,” as each chapter focuses on the revenge of paper, film, retail, and so forth. He finds support for his argument about the new vitality of analog in various anecdotal narratives, the strongest parts of the book. His point is most vividly made by the commercial resurgence of vinyl records, startling industry vets like the now-thriving United Record Pressing of Nashville. As the author notes, “the [digital] streaming services have proven technology, but unproven business models,” which are now being undercut by the tangible, collectible profitability of records. Similarly, Sax sees in Toronto’s packed board game cafes “a mecca of analog fun…and an example of how a tangible community is closely tied to analog’s revenge.” He also shares a charming underdog story from Italy, where revival of the fragile FILM Ferrania factory is underway, and the shrewd lifestyle marketing of Moleskine (which actually revived a dormant notebook style described by Bruce Chatwin, thus inventing a symbol of creativity). Sax identifies intriguing representations of the swing toward analog, but his argument becomes more diffuse when linked to the less quirky and forgiving worlds of work, school, and digital innovation. He relies on a broad but shallow pool of interviewees, talking to a few innovators in each chapter—e.g., the manager of Facebook’s Analog Research Laboratory, who avers, “the mission of the lab is to provoke and instill creativity in people.”
A perky and well-illustrated but repetitive, sometimes-pat look at a discordantly retro cultural trend.