The Scarlet

Drawbacks of the New Wave

Higgins School of Humanities hosts conversation on the prominence of digital technology.

Daniel Juarez, Managing Editor

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Numerous insightful discussions filled Higgins Lounge at Dana Commons, as the Higgins School of Humanities hosted its dialogue event this past Thursday, titled “The Worlds We Live In: A Community Conversation.”

Aiming to uncover how the analog realm compared to the digital and the difficulties people have in navigating and understanding the two in their everyday lives in the current age of technology, the event encouraged students to speak their minds and share their own experiences with one another.

The gathering got its start with a quick introduction from Clark’s own Hugh Manon and Meredith Neuman, as the two shared their own take on the subject matter and what switching between analog and digital meant for them.

“As a way of introducing this subject,” Manon began, “I decided to bring in an analog prop.”

He held up an old Panasonic tape recorder and spoke about how playing with it when he was younger helped him understand how distinct from each other both realms truly are.

“I took it to camp one time and in order to make copies of recordings for my friends, we’d setup one kid’s tape player, and set it to record the other tape player, right up against each other through the air,” he said. “By the fourth recording, after making copies of those copies, it literally sounded like nothing, as the noise from the air would obscure the actual voices from the recording.”

Manon then compared this analog form of recording to the modern-day digital.

“The fact that you can record digitally and without ambience or noise in the background, the noiselessness, seems everywhere,” he said. “There’s a sense in which the digital hollows out and takes away the problem to such an extent that it actually loses some of the fun and challenge of overcoming noise during audio recordings in the eighties.”

Newman echoed this point.

“I do think that the obstacles of the digital are hidden, and that they kind of disappear in a certain way,” she said.

She reflected on her time writing her dissertation, recalling both the digitized database and catalogs of handwritten notes in the analog realm that she was able to sift through for her research.

“As ideas were coming to me, there was a record revolution,” she explained, “and then, my entire digital world came crumbling around me– see I’d been using that laptop on my lap… and I’m typing and typing, and I have a catastrophic failure of my back, because of the bad posture of working with the laptop on your lap, and I wake up one morning and I can’t feel my arms, so I can’t use my laptop anymore.”

In telling her story, Newman emphasized the completely unforeseen consequences of depending on the digital to complete her work.

“To this day, I can’t have the same relationship with digital technology,” she revealed. “So when we think of digital as being this seamless thing where I can just sit down, and think that there’s no physicality of it– to me, it’s the very epitome of embodiment: wear-and-tear on the body.”

The conversation bounced back to Manon.

“Despite the fact that digital technology enables the speed and transfer of data, the ability to manipulate things in ways you never thought possible, the problem is that when digital technology fails, it fails catastrophically,” he said, “whereas analog failure can be made to fail absolutely… are usually more salvageable.”

With such a preamble, the event then allowed the audience to share their thoughts on the topic discussed.

Dividing into groups of six and arranging their seats into circles, each group was given a set of guidelines to prompt conversation. In going around the circle and learning about their own personal thoughts on analog versus digital technology, discussion rapidly expanded, jumping from one subject to the next.

Going from personal experiences with cassettes and CDs, how today’s digital recording can still feel analog, the deep relationship one can develop with inanimate digital MP3 and photo files, and how the slow degradation of such files is similar to how personal memories slowly grow imperfect over time, one student’s comment in particular seemed to sum the relationship up when comparing digitally created music versus a human-made orchestra:

“When you’re making music in a computer, it’s sterile and there’s a vacuum– there’s nothing in there, it can’t capture the nuance of someone hitting a drum a little bit harder. Not really. You can hit the dynamics of the music and make it sound harder, but it’s not capturing an objective reality– that hardness of that drum hit has no objective reality. It’s fictitious.”

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Drawbacks of the New Wave