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The case for analogue in the wake of the digital glut (and why I’m not a hipster)

44’s Head of Digital Alan Coates explores the place of analogue amongst the huge expanse of digital media that continues to grow every day. In a world where film photography and 12” vinyl has been making a comeback, perhaps the future of internal communications should be more analogue than we think.

I have recently become an avid Lomographer, using my Diana Mini camera

Lomography is a photographic movement that started in mid-nineties Vienna. A group of students came across a Russian camera called the Lomo LC-A camera and started using it to make dreamy, vignette-style photographs. There are ten rules to follow (or not), but in short, Lomography means mucking about with film photography. It costs me a couple of quid for a roll of 24-exposure film, and a few more to get it processed – often with semi-blurry results. I print or upload the ones that come out nice.

I have recently been listening to my 1970s Pioneer PL15D record player

Somebody once tried to explain to me why vinyl records are better. They claimed that when the first digital encoding began in the 80s, the model they used wasn’t quite right. So every CD since hasn’t been an accurate representation of the original sound. It turns out, however, that by almost every measure (dynamic range, surface noise, degradation of material) CDs come out on top for quality. This didn’t stop me from putting on the 2016 12” vinyl release of Jean-Michel Jarre’s Oxygène 3 last night with a glass of wine.

Less is more

As Head of Digital, I should be an evangelist for all things pixels and bytes. And I am. So why do I enjoy Lomography more than using my pin-sharp, cloud-stored, easy-to-share and instant smartphone camera? Why do I enjoy putting on records, when I’ve got access to almost every album ever made through my Apple Music subscription in top audio quality?

The reason: less is more.

The world of the digital ‘glut’

In a previous blog I explored what we talk about when we talk about digital. Digital is intelligent, always available, predictive and empowering.

It’s also huge. Where a magazine may hold ten key features, your intranet may hold hundreds and thousands of news stories, videos, images, files and comments. Similarly, Netflix has roughly 4,000 films and 1,500 TV shows in its library. Spotify has 20 million songs in its catalogue – so many, that four million have never been played. YouTube has 400 hours of footage uploaded to its servers every minute.

The benefit of the so-called ‘platform economy’ is that, because of the technology involved, it’s quick, convenient, capacious and ever-expanding. The downside is that there’s so much content out there that it costs time and energy to go through it all and choose what to enjoy.

‘The paradox of choice’

In 2004 American Psychologist Barry Schwartz argued the case for less choice. In his book Why more is less he explained that “autonomy and freedom of choice are critical to our wellbeing.”

However, “One effect, paradoxically, is that it produces paralysis, rather than liberation. With so many options to choose from, people find it very difficult to choose at all.”

The second effect, Barry explains, is what economists call ‘opportunity costs’. “When there are lots of alternatives to consider, it is easy to imagine the attractive features of alternatives that you reject that make you less satisfied with the alternative that you’ve chosen.”

He goes into detail on his TED Talk, which you can watch here: The paradox of choice.

So, what’s the answer?

A colleague once explained to me that digital channels are search engines. You go online to find the thing you want as quickly and effectively as possible. He went on to propose that analogue channels are discovery engines. You pick up a magazine or turn up for a conference not knowing what you might learn. I believe this is true.

The best advice is to have a balanced mix of digital and analogue channels. Give people the great experience of a printed magazine, which signposts to more and different content online. Use those digital channels to collect feedback, measure interactions and steer the kind of content you use next in the magazine, in the next townhall meeting and on and on. By creating a virtuous circle that supports the next communication, you’ll always be able to monitor and influence behavioural change in your organisation – which is what we are all here to do.

See. I told you. I’m not a hipster. I’m multi-channel.

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