People have started saying that “Analogue is the new digital.” Personally, I just wonder what took them so long.

Trite little phrases are always springing up on the internet, which shouldn’t surprise us; perhaps Dawkins was right in comparing ideas to genes. Amusingly self-referentially, in our snake-eating-its-own-tail world, viral marketing is another ‘big thing’ at the moment. These buzz-phrases begin as an observation, and soon take on a life of their own: rather than remain as analysis, they become transformations, affecting not only our creations but our understanding.

A case in point is the one I mentioned at the beginning, “Analogue is the new digital.” From what I can tell, this is a design meme (god how I hate that word; somebody invent some synonyms, please). After a few years of shiny chrome and sharp, clean work, designers are beginning to let some grain and texture back into their work. Web design is becoming more human, taking inspiration from old print work, scratched photographs, scribbled drawings.

But this is the revisionist version, the post-viral understanding of history. Yes, perhaps there is a little truth in the saying, but I’ve seen—and been inspired by—plenty of ‘analogue’ work since I first got interested in design. I’ve seen great work that draws on these sources now being credited as new inspiration, and I’ve seen it not merely today or yesterday, but at many points over the last five years. It was probably there before that, but I wasn’t, and what we cannot speak of…

Of course, the popularity—the survival—of these phrases depends on latching on to the greater zeitgeist in some fashion, and this is one that, I think, could do that. Our lives are ruled, more than ever before, by gadgets. I’ve noticed blog posts about how many things we are now carrying around with us: laptops, mobile phones, PDAs, iPods, as well as the wallet and keys that used to be all we needed. Analogue might represent simplicity and tactility in an increasingly complicated and ephemeral world.

I, of course, feel mixed about this. On the one hand, I have a tendency to feel overwhelmed by data, by ideas, and so any paring down of that is something I welcome. Moreover, paying more attention to our environments, to the things we live with and around, is something we should applaud. However, I am not a utilitarian. Methods matter; the paths by which we reach our goals matter. Living our lives, and reflecting on how we do so, gives us insight. Simply following a trend might take us to the right place, but we will have learned nothing by it, and the change will be temporary and meaningless.