Navigating the Digital / Analog Divide in Life and Work
An interesting contrast has developed in how I choose to live my life, and the world in which I live it. This contrast is not absolute mind you, the edges sometimes blur in interesting and not necessarily intuitive ways. I have learned that I sometimes prefer the simpler, slower, more thoughtful ways of doing things; and I have learned that they have distinct advantages. They may not be as fast (frenetic) or as modern (cool), but they can be more beneficial (effective).
Areas of my life where I have transitioned to a primarily analog mode: Today, I journal in a real, actual, physical journal book; one with paper pages even. This requires me to write by hand and I prefer to use a fountain pen. Yes, you read correctly: Writing with a fountain pen on paper. More about that later. Other examples include wearing a chronometer, reading a book (although I am listening more also), and even how I do my budgeting (on a spreadsheet, not an application complete with all its advantages, shortcomings, and risks). In each case I’ve made the decision purposefully based on my needs, desires, goals, and preferences.
To be sure, there is an element of the past in this, recognizing and honoring the sense of simpler times. But it is only an element and a serendipitous one at that. I am doing this primarily to benefit me now.
That said, I do still function in the digital world as well. I am tethered to (but not ruled by) a smartphone. I spend too many hours in front of my computer, and I am a big fan of cloud storage (with hard copy back-up systems where important). As much as an idyllic vision of an analog world may seem attractive, it would be a disadvantage and mistake to attempt living such a lifestyle predominately, assuming one is interested in being related to and effective in today’s world. The point it seems is balance. At what juncture does one optimize the advantages of each? No doubt that is a personal answer for each of us. I wonder though: Is it a question many of us consider?
Is There a Digital Disadvantage? I am sure some who read this will scoff at the idea and ask what is wrong with our digital world. Again, I suspect the answer is different among us. Some are naturally disposed to digital, especially younger generations, while others appreciate a different kind of experience. Our answers will also depend upon who we are, how we are wired personally. A near singular focus on digital tends to de-personalize the human connections among us, and the constant connectedness to everything contributes to less thoughtfulness, fewer filters, and diminished civility. For those with compulsive personalities the digital universe is easy to get lost in, and I mean truly lost.
We have the capacity to manage all of this, to set boundaries and use the tools of life appropriately and smartly. But do we? As individuals, many do. As a larger community, however, I am concerned. I am a tech fan in the sense that I like to use tech tools and I want to take advantage of the leverage they bring. But when I see families sitting at table, each person with their head buried in the small screen they hold in their hands and no conversation occurring between them, I wonder. When I see the same behavior around a corporate conference table I wonder as well.
The Advantages of Analog: Aside from the desire for a simpler, more civilized, and less conflicted life, I find that being intentional about slowing life down is an important productivity and effectiveness tool. Our world wants us to hurry to keep up with everything going on in our various spheres, when what we really need is to slow down and focus on what really matters. For me, slowing the pace and being intentional about where my attention is pointed are strategies for avoiding information overload and remaining present in the moment, especially when the moment matters.
Solution – Match the Tool to the Moment: I’ve found that there are several tasks that fit the analog mold well, yet most remain a shared solution between analog and digital. Here’s a short list.
Reading is definitely divided between the two dimensions. I’ve been intentional about reading more, setting three books per month as a goal. But how I “read” depends on the content. My daily time with scripture is quite personal and the tactile experience of holding the Word is a physical connection to the spiritual. Similarly, I prefer physical books when reading for knowledge, rampant highlighter that I am. Recreational reading, however, is almost exclusively via Audible.com, and other information intake is via Overcast, my preferred podcast agent. With the last two I can listen on the go, while doing chores around the house, or when out in nature with my camera. What I’ve tried and seriously dislike is reading off a small screen. Reading books from my smartphone or tablet (Kindle app, etc.) is a non-starter for me. There is just no intimate connection.
Journaling is where I’ve made my biggest shift. For years I used Evernote exclusively, except for the Rhodia Webbie I carried at the office. Now I am using a loose-leaf A5 sized journal, and I have adopted a modified form of bullet journaling for all personal and business journaling. As a bonus, this allows me to engage with my fountain pen collection on a consistent basis. One thing about using a fountain pen – you can’t hurry. I enjoy them for many reasons, but the fact that they force me to slow down and be more thoughtful before committing words to paper is an important part of it. There is no delete button to rescue me, and I like that. I do still use Evernote, primarily as a reference and archiving tool.
Time and Schedule Management is both necessary and sometimes onerous, especially when forced to integrate across multiple platforms. This is one where I divide to conquer. I use Office 365 synched with Fantastical to keep my personal and business schedules in order. I manage my larger task lists with Todist, but each evening I decide the next day’s top three and enter them into my journal. That gives me both a long and short view and keeps me from defaulting to the technology, where I am likely to stay too long. I am intrigued by smart watches but wary of their limitations, and much prefer a chronograph on my wrist.
Music plays well anywhere. I am a fan of good music, any kind of good music. My playlists travel with me everywhere I go, that is the beauty of digital music. On demand, anytime, anywhere. Digital music is awesome and mobile. I love it! But … try turning down the lights on a Friday evening and listening to a vinyl of Miles Davis’ Blue in Green, or Zoot Sims’ Quietly There on a Linn Soundek LP12 turntable. That, my friend, is a music experience that will change your heart.
The Point: Thinking about analog living is a proxy for thinking about how I manage my life. The tools we choose are important, each comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. Knowing how to leverage and balance them is also important. But it is not just about the tools, be they analog, digital, or even primitive. More importantly, it is about the quality of experience we choose. More and more I am trying to focus on experiences over information, prioritizing personal engagement with family and community, and being reflective and listening to what is inside of me instead of the clamor and chaos of the world around me. Doing these consistently and in each dimension of our lives seems a pathway to greater fulfillment – adding more value and enjoying the journey at a higher level.
The good thing about this is that the pathway is wide open, available to all, and there is plenty of room. Care to join me?