Updated: May 9, 2020
My 13 year old son made a mix-tape on the weekend. I watched him run an audio lead from his phone into the back of our cassette deck, pull up an 80’s playlist on Spotify and create an analogue version of his favourite songs, carefully tweaking the input level to prevent audio distortion and minimise tape hiss.
In an era when music is instantly available for free via mediums such as Spotify and Youtube, why would a teenager, a digital native, choose to spend hours on a Sunday afternoon creating and playing music on obsolete, clunky analogue technology?
Anders Sorman-Nilsson’s brilliant book Digilogue: how to win the digital minds and analogue hearts of tomorrow’s customers offers some insight into this phenomenon. Sorman-Nilsson observes that everything that can be digitised will be digitised. Yet, despite the ready availability of digital assets, people still yearn for a physical, analogue connection to the world. Something is lost in the process of binary reduction.
I wear an analogue Seiko on one wrist (you can see the cog wheels through the glass on the back) and a Garmin Vivosmart on the other, so I understand where Sorman-Nilsson is coming from. The Garmin never loses a second and is incredibly functional. The watch loses a few minutes every week, but the engineering is beautiful. Sure, I’m an “I.T. guy”, but if I could only keep one, it would be the Seiko.
People used to listen to music differently. There was effort involved in rewinding tapes and flipping records. Our selection of music was limited so we played the same albums over and over again and got to know every pop and crackle in our favourite songs. My son is fascinated by the unfamiliar mechanics and engineering of cassette technology, but I also think he wants to be able to hold the music in his hands and connect with it in a more tangible way.
He’s not alone. Cassette sales have steadily increased over the last few years (up around 125% in the UK in 2018) and the trend shows no sign of slowing down. Vinyl sales are also growing steadily (around 25% in the US last year) and in 2020 records will probably outsell CDs for the first time since 1986. Physical books still outsell eBooks.
What has any of this got to do with teaching? Well, I’ve found the concept of digilogue extremely helpful in driving change and increasing engagement with digital technologies in schools, particularly with teachers. As change drivers in the digital space we can support staff who lack confidence in digital technologies by building an analogue bridge to the digital technology.
The digilogue principle is one reason why people are generally more comfortable learning coding using robotics than they are merely editing code on a screen. The physical manifestation of the instructions in the code allows students to grasp the concepts more readily. Robotics brings the algorithms into the real physical world, making them more tangible.
As classroom teachers we can leverage digilogue with our students by ensuring that lessons with a digital focus also have an analogue element. For example, it's more interesting to model in 3D if you end up with a plastic model you can touch and hold. The digital design and printing process produces an “analogue” physical result which makes the process seem more worthwhile.
Most learners are comfortable in the analogue space, so a great way to get people engaged and excited with robotics is to assign a task that has a strong analogue element. Students might decorate the robots with feathers, egg cartons and googly eyes or perform some kind of paper craft as part of the task.
Digital technologies open up a world of opportunities for humankind. AI is breaking new ground and the 2045 initiative seeks to create an artificial brain that will store a human consciousness - a digitised human mind.
We're excited about moving forward, embracing new technologies and delivering digital technologies outcomes in the new syllabus. Being clever with shiny new things doesn't have to mean abandoning soft, old warm things. A few years ago I threw out all my vinyl albums and cassettes. Now I wish I'd held onto them.