Analogue versus digital – still a heated debate even in a largely digital world?

“Old media won’t go away” writes Yanto Browning, Associate lecturer in Music and Sound at Queensland University of Technology. “There’s too many people interested in keeping them alive.”

With rapidly evolving digital technologies vastly changing the ways we capture, consume, and interact with all kinds of media, it is perhaps quite surprising that competition between digital and analogue remains.

As Browning explores in his article, however, analogue mediums continue to thrive among artists, creatives, and younger people, who long for “the buzzes, distortions, crackles and flares” that define an earlier time.

“Even though we’re living in the days of the digital”, Browning notes, “there are still many young, emerging artists who love old media with a sense of nostalgia – especially for equipment they’ve often never used.”

Discovery and rediscovery

This would certainly seem true given the recent increase in vinyl sales, reaching a 25-year high in 2016.

As well as the older generations who grew up listening to their favourite artists on this format, this increase may largely be down to younger people wanting to listen to music in other ways besides on their iPods, or Spotify.

As Vanessa Higgins, CEO of Regent Street and Gold Bar Records says, “people think millennials just stream and are just digital but actually I think we are going to see […] that young people still want something tangible and real and that’s where vinyl is taking on the role that the CD used to have.”

Shelves stacked with analogue music formats: vinyl, amps, tapes etc.

Penchant for the past

This trend of discovery and rediscovery also extends to photography.

More and more professional and amateur photographers alike are investing in older analogue forms of equipment.

As Imraan Dudhai suggests, “the resurgence of analogue photography is very like the trend of vinyl” in that “photographers are now looking to go back and find that joy of the physical”.

For this reason, there is a renewed interest in film photography and the particularities of its aesthetic.

But for the young this is not nostalgia, as much of this technology became superseded before they were even born.

What is remarkable, then, is how there seems to be a penchant for media that deals in the material – paradoxically, for mediums that have been found in digital realms, such as the Internet.

Perhaps this interest stems from a desire to branch out from what they are used to – pursuing other modes of technology that are not associated with the present.

Perhaps it is a way of standing out from the crowd. As Browning reminds us, there is an element of “cool” that can be associated with the use of a vintage Polaroid camera.

Old meets new

Of course, even digital photo technologies now cater for this love of vintage-looking images.

The social media platform Instagram, for instance, offers multiple filters that can be applied to your digital photographs, with many of them providing colour muting and fading effects that mimic those familiar to analogue technologies.

The beauty of this is that your smartphone can achieve some of the effects that are sought after from analogue cameras without the labour of carrying around the equipment – which can be bulky in size and weight.

Image showing an analogue film camera alongside a modern DSLR.

As Browning notes, “it’s not so much that the new digital tools can’t do the job properly; it’s more that they do the job too well. We miss the fuzziness, blurriness and saturation that analogue can give us, but need the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of digital formats.”

As we have noted previously, the digital form that photography has now taken has ultimately changed the functionality and physicality of the photograph. Photographs taken by most as part of day-to-day life often remain bound to the digital format that was used to create them.

Despite the growing love for ‘slower media’, Browning predicts that the benefits of digital technologies, both in efficiency and cost, will always outweigh those from older analogue technologies.

“With digital technology ever improving, it will soon be able to model analogue nonlinearities so well that no one will be able to tell the difference anyway.

“When that happens, the conversation will have to shift to how the different working approaches required by analogue and digital formats shape the artistic process – not the differences between the formats themselves.”

So, rather than debates that compare digital and analogue, perhaps we will see more examples of how new and old can function alongside each other in an ever-changing landscape of technologies.

For example, whilst analogue formats have large interest due to their vintage appeal, for modern applications such as time-lapse, digital is the only suitable way to sufficiently capture to purpose.

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