Hominis ex machina

In a world that runs on digital solutions, what makes people seek out analogue options?

Old-school technology like vinyl records are appealing to a young audience who never experienced them first time around. Photo: Francois Monier / AFP
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In a world run by numbers, some, it seems, still hanker to inject a tiny bit of uncertainty; a bit of dust on the lens, a bit of sand beneath the feet, a bit of grit in the ointment. That could explain why, despite all the evidence that projecting motion pictures digitally is far easier, cheaper and less prone to malfunctions, a group of Hollywood studios has announced a deal with Kodak to continue making celluloid for cinema projection.

It explains why car manufacturers continue to produce manual transmission options – even on high-end models, and why vinyl records are still available in the era of MP3s. And it explains why every cameraphone, as well as apps like Instagram, includes filters that can give crisp, clear digital photos the sheen and tint of pictures taken on old-time film.

What is it about this love of analogue in a digital age? What is it that makes people – particularly, it appears, the young – see imprecision as authentic, when they are surrounded by digital precision. It cannot be mere nostalgia, because most of those filtering their photos to look like the 1970s were not even born then. Instead, it must be a feeling that imperfection is human, that while there is beauty in perfect function, there is also humanity in imperfect form. When machines control everything, it is nice, once in a while, to feel the humanity in the machine.