It’s the appeal of analog: Your non-digital automobile provides hands-on experiences that younger generations want, but that the computer screen and self-driving cars cannot duplicate
Between traveling and work and other responsibilities, including an eight-day babysit of three grandchildren, it sometimes takes me a few days — OK, sometimes a couple of weeks — to get around to working my way through the Sunday edition of The New York Times (yes, I’m an old codger who actually likes to get printer’s ink on his hands as he reads his news).
But I’ve finally read David Sax’s mid-November essay, “Our Love Affair With Digital Is Over.” The subhead on the article is “Many of us are yearning for records, real books, and hardware stores,” to which I suggest we can add cars that you not only drive yourself but that need some tender-loving care from time to time, perhaps even some carburetor adjustment or re-setting of the ignition points (remember those?).
In addition to writing his piece in the NYT, Sax is the author of The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter. In his essay, he notes that in this Digital Age, not only has analog survived “but, in many cases it is thriving.” He points to such things as the surging sales of vinyl records (and the equipment to play them), of printed books, of instant-film cameras (remember Polaroids?), and even of board games.
“This surprising reversal of fortune for these apparently ‘obsolete’ analog technologies is too often written off as nostalgia for a predigital time,” he writes. “But younger consumers who never owned a turntable have few memories of life before the internet drive most of the current interest in analog, and often include those who work in Silicon Valley’s most powerful companies.”
How can this be? Why is this happening? Sax offers an answer:
“Analog, although more cumbersome and costly than its digital equivalents, provides a richness of experience that is unparalleled with anything delivered through a screen.”
That bears repeating — “a richness of experience that is unparalleled with anything delivered through a screen” — to which I’ll note that he’s talking about a computer screen, not a windscreen.
“People are buying books because a book engages nearly all of their senses, from the smell of the paper and glue to the sight of the cover design and weight of the pages read, the sound of those sheets turning, and even the subtle taste of ink on your fingers. A book can be bought and sold, given and received, and displayed on a shelf for anyone to see. It can start conversations and cultivate romances.”
To which I add a “ditto” as his words relate to classic cars as well as to books or vinyl records.
In fact, Sax adds, “The limits of analog, which were once seen as a disadvantage, are increasingly one of the benefits people are turning to as a counterweight to the easy manipulation of digital.”
So, what does all this mean for our cherished classic and collector cars? Well, for the most part, while they can be cumbersome and costly, the experience they provide is vastly different from those provided by a self- or Uber-driven vehicle. Like a printed book or vinyl record, they can be seen and shared. And let’s face it, car shows are as much about conversation as they are about cars.
“Analog excels particularly well at encouraging human interaction, which is crucial to our physical and mental well-being,” Sax writes.
Oh, and here’s more good news for those worried about whether the classics in their care will find caretakers in the future:
“We do not face a simple choice of digital or analog,” Sax adds. “That is the false logic in the binary code that computers are programmed with, which ignores the complexity of life in the real world. Instead, we are faced with a decision of how to strike the right balance between the two.
“If we keep that in mind,” he concludes, “we are taking the first step toward a healthy relationship with all technology, and, most important, one another.”
In other words, next time you want to flip off a millennial with a loud and too-highly pitched exhaust and ridiculous wheel camber, don’t confuse hoonigan with hooligan (although you likely were one once). Instead, offer a thumb’s up and engage in a conversation. After all, someday that kid might be buying your car.