Book Review: The Future Is Analog by David Sax

The Future Is Analog also does a great job of vindicating the value of the offline experience, albeit at a somewhat costly cost. Paralyzed by lockdown, Sax, a journalist and public speaker, has had to resort to reporting from Zoom, which he says is a fast-food version of IRL. Starved for paint, he inspects one source’s guitar collection as if he were a room evaluator and watches another’s child walk by in a Harry Potter costume. The author laments his confinement at his mother-in-law’s “luxurious lakeside getaway,” a six-bedroom home with a sauna and hot tub, while acknowledging his good fortune, the author can’t help but sound a little tearful. Arguing about Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste with half a dozen other “white men of privilege” in a backyard book club feels slightly infatuated.

But Sax is no George Jetson lying on a conveyor belt at the end of a rough day to get his pipe and slippers. “Give me a delivery guy to say hello,” he almost growls, “not a robot rolling down the sidewalk with my lunch.” I hope he makes an excellent tap.

The book is not entirely without adventure: Sax buys a wetsuit at a local store in his hometown of Toronto and realizes that this personalized shopping experience is superior to the Amazon clickathon; remembers a charming-sounding “forest library” he once visited in Seoul (although people there probably check their phones); and goes surfing in Lake Ontario, bravely dodging discarded condoms and tampons. He bakes challah for his family and enjoys the “fold, push, turn, turn, hit, fold, push, turn, turn, hit, fold, push, turn, turn, hit!” Feeling of kneading.

Trouble is, here in autumn 2022, when most Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted, the revelation that such simple activities warm a digitally chilled soul feels as stale as our sourdough breads. And some of Sax’s tenets, novel under our collective compulsion, now seem obvious or under-scrutinized. Theater is better, of course, and too much online shopping and scrolling can leave you feeling hollow. Are digital conversations “more fleeting” than physical ones, as Sax claims? (“They disappear into the void.”) Or is it just the opposite, that they can be screenshotted or forwarded and reappear in ways never expected?

The latest exploration in The Future Is Analog concerns the role of the office in human society, an ongoing conundrum that city planners, state tax authorities and corporate executives are struggling to solve. This is interesting because Sax only worked at one for six weeks and resigned after the copier caught fire. He cites a team at Ford who, in three hours, positively “smashed” a design plan they’d been trying to design remotely for months – after meeting in a boardroom and pinning ideas on a wall.” What is an office?” Sax asks, and maybe the answer is just a post-it party.