Often we talk about ‘being digital’ but what does this imply in reverse? What might it mean in today’s day and age to be analogue?

In a recent post reflecting on Nicholas Negroponte’s book Being Digital, Mal Lee and Roger Broadie discuss what it means to ‘be digital’. The authors reflect on some of the changes, especially in regards to learning. They also explain the fluid nature of ‘being digital’.

As the children within digitally connected families grow, mature, develop their cognitive, inter and intrapersonal abilities, become sexually aware, build relationships, socially network, operate at a higher order of thinking and continually attune their ways to the evolving technology so they will develop their own form of being digital – and will continue doing so, in subtly different ways, at the various stages of life.

This all begs the question, if being digital is such a thing, what does it mean to be analogue in today’s world? Assuming that is the opposite? Is it even possible anymore?

I recently watched the film adaptation of Into the Wild, a story about a student, Christopher McCandless, who goes off the grid after finishing his tertiary studies. In some respects, it reminded me of Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road, where the main protagonist wanders around search of a sense of self and identity.

What was interesting was comparing it with Dave Eggers novel The Circle. A fictional social media company that makes the argument for radical transparency. As things unfold in the world that Eggers creates, it becomes impossible for anyone to go off the grid, to start again, to forget the past.


Through the power of the crowd, there are no more ‘Alexander Supertramp’s’ (the psuedonym taken by McCandless), there is only truth and power.

The era of false identities, identity theft, multiple user names, complicated passwords and payment systems was over. Anytime you wanted to see anything, use anything, comment on anything or buy anything, it was one button, one account, everything tied together and trackable and simple, all of it operable via mobile or laptop, tablet or retinal. Once you had a single account, it carried you through every corner of the web, every portal, every pay site, everything you wanted to do. TruYou changed the internet, in toto, within a year.

What then does this all mean for being analogue? For identity? For memory?

There are some in Silicon Valley, like Tristan Harris, who talk about ‘aligning technology with humanity’. If only we have a little more humanity in it all then everything will be ok. The problem with this is that this perpetuates the belief that technology and humanity are somehow distinct and can be harmonised.

In a recent interview, George Seimens suggested that our focus should be on ‘being skills’. Jenny Mackness summarises this conversation as follows:

Technology can ‘out know’ us, artificial intelligence is taking over human roles, and that in the future technology will become a co-agent rather than an enabler; you, me, colleagues, algorithms and robots will all work together in a techno-socio distributed learning model. George tells us that learners (humans) need to learn how to participate in this and that this will be through ‘Being skills’ which, as yet, machines can’t succeed at. He says we are necessarily entering a ‘being age’ because the technological systems around us are more intelligent than we are.

What is intriguing about this is that although Seimens tries to focus on what separates us, we are led back to the work of mindsets and behaviourism. Interestingly, Mackness extends her reflection by exploring the notion of living things and machines. Maybe then being analogue is merely living?

Just as Steve Brophy stops and questions 1:1 computing, I think that sometimes it is important to stop and consider the world that we are buying into. Today this meant stopping and wondering about being. As always, questions and webmentions welcome.

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Being Analogue by Aaron Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

14 thoughts on “Being Analogue

  1. Thanks for the mention and for extending the discussion in this interesting post, which pulls together many ideas from many sources. Your final question is thought-provoking: >> Maybe then being analogue is merely living?<<

    I wonder why you chose the word ‘merely’. It seems to me that ‘living’ and ‘how to live’ is what we are all, ultimately, trying to work out. I’m not sure that ‘being analogue’ would be the answer. Maybe it’s more about the balance between digital and analogue.

    Interestingly, the last time I heard McGilchrist speak, as well as discussing the role of technology in society, there was also some discussion about the role of community in society. There was a suggestion that society might function better if we lived and worked in smaller communities of about 250 people. (I am on holiday at the moment and don’t have the notes I made to hand, but this, as I remember it, is the gist of what was said). I’m not sure if this is desirable or even possible (once the genie is out of the bottle as they say …), but I wonder what implications it might have for networked learning and ‘being skills’.

    For me ‘being’ incorporates, but lies beyond analogue, digital, skills or the size of communities, but is something to do with what it means to be a human as opposed to a machine, which is what both Siemens and McGilchrist talk about in their own ways.

    Thanks for all the links in your post too.

  2. Hey Aaron – are we human? Or are we dancers?

    Is being human defined in part by the fact that we kill people – computers don’t do that yet…? Do ‘Being skills’ address that – the idea that machines behave better than people?
    My interest in the notion of going analogue is born of a desire for people to understand why technology (in general, if such a term has any applicable meaning) is something that they want. Or to develop discernment in their use of tech and their participation in digitally-enhanced living.
    At my school (large independent co-ed boarding school in the UK) we have been iterating a digital detox. Mobile phones being locked away for one or two days a week and taken in overnight for our junior pupils. I am looking to implement a week next year that will trigger dialogue about digital health. My current thinking on this is to call it digital fasting. All teachers and pupils will be placed into Internet quarantine (access to email only via school services) and all pupils will be without their phones for the duration. And we will fast. All lessons and homework will be analogue. The aim is for fasting to help us reflect on why technology serves us well. As we break our fast – the inevitable bingeing will pass – maybe there will be some residue that places the benefits of Internet access front and centre in the minds of the members of our community.
    Phones in particular, but other digital tools as well, are compelling. They are habituating. Many humans are susceptible to having habits formed by devices or apps. The glistening jewels of 16.5m colours and instant response to our touch. They are ours. Mine. Precious. It is important that all of us understand as much as possible about the magnetism – the gravity? – of our participation in the digital world. And that we have the power to put it down and step away. The opportunity to value other things.
    This will be complimented by educative strands on notification management, aeroplane mode for sleeping, using apps to monitor our phone usage patterns and so on.
    Will it achieve the desired affect? I hope so.

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