Sunday, October 30, 2022

Analog and Digital

Over my life, as more and more has changed from analog to digital, while I can appreciate what was gained, I also feel some nostalgia for what has been lost.

My everyday self benefits from the digitization of our world, (do you remember how much it cost to process photographs?), but I mourn for the ones who will never know the thrill of the sound of a pipe organ at full crank in a place where the acoustics are half-decent. A pipe organ doesn't just play notes. It breathes them. Literally. Its breath fills the rafters and permeates and lingers in the wood in the building. Digital is fine, but even with the best speakers, it doesn't come close to the real thing.

Mom played the pipe organ at church when I was a kid. After some years, she got an electronic organ so she could play at home. It was great for her. But it never gave me that thrill. Decades later when I got news that the church of my childhood had burned down, I felt bad about the loss, but mostly I mourned the pipe organ. 

School bells, hand-held or hung in the bell tower, had a human touch. Switching to an electronic buzzer may have been more efficient, but it lost something when the push of a button set it ringing rather than Mrs. Storey. School is about community, and Mrs. Storey ringing the bell was part of that. 

Bells are analog. They are complex and resonant. I feel enriched when I hear the carillon at U of Toronto, church bells in the distance, or the clock at Old City Hall.

When we first started going to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia to visit Dad, the fog horn blew a long, low tone that filled the air and tingled right down my back. One year they modernized it and replaced it with an electronic version. I was so disappointed. My experience of the town was more than family, location, Bluenose and tall ships. It was laying in soft sheets in a misty summer night and letting the reassuring tone of the fog horn fill me. The new one did the job, but didn't touch me the same way.

We lose something rich and multilayered when we switch from analog to digital. But we are human after all, and will find a way to replace them. Other multilayered experiences will open up even as the old ones fall away; we aren't left with only pale imitations. 

Still, as much as I feel the loss when some of them go, I take joy in the ones that still exist. When I hear the sound of a bell, if I can, I stop and let it soak in.

Oh, and if you ever get a chance to hear a pipe organ in full crank in a building with good acoustics, go. If you are anything like me, the complexity and beauty of the experience can raise gooseflesh and fill your soul.

The Sumburgh Foghorn is an example of a proper fog horn