The library and privacy of analog

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Written by Arthur “A.J.” Boston, (MLIS) Assistant Professor

Vinyl records, print magazines, Moleskine notebooks, film photography and board games are all examples of analog “things” author David Sax describe as enjoying a relative resurgence of popularity. In his book, The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter, Sax makes a convincing case for why, in a digital era, we sensuous, tactile human beings may still crave to have and to hold these non-connected things in real life. Count me in Sax’s camp – my having read this book on a Kindle notwithstanding.

Amidst recent tech news stories, one forgotten aspect of analog has struck me anew: the ever-shifting balance of our privacy as we increasingly enjoy the convenience of the digital.

It’s an old story, but as an old man, I’m old enough to remember the moment when I consented to supplementing my paperback consumption to include ebooks several Christmases ago. I remember posting pictures on Facebook from an SD card in 2006 as a college student and when I started keeping to-do notes and composing mind-blowing rap lyrics on the Notepad app.

I also remember the past few weeks, when Apple announced facial identification was going mainstream and when Equifax decided it was the Oprah of leaving social security numbers beneath every hacker’s seat.

Strangers love to take my picture because of my extreme aesthetic niceness, but now I have to worry that maybe these strangers aren’t cataloging my peculiar charm for their personal collection, but rather IDing me and my wonderful credit score for nefarious causes.

How old were you when you first shopped online, had your picture uploaded to social media, texted mom or wrote something personal in an email? How could it have occurred to you that you were giving up some bit of your privacy, relative to the analog version of that thing, when you were that age, when this was the accepted practice of the world around you?

I have a mission for each of you. At some point during the four or so years of your time as a Murray State undergraduate student, go to the bank and bring me a sample. But also, withdraw ten dollars for yourself. Drive, walk or cycle down to Terrapin Station. Or G’s Comics. Or Angel’s Attic. Switch your phone to airplane mode, go inside and pick out a paperback or comic book or any analog thing that suits your fancy.

Buy it. Pay cash. Take it back to your dorm or apartment. Enjoy it. Read it. Commune quietly with its creator. Write on it, lend it to a pal, resell it. Leave the book in the back of a Mama Nancy’s cab like you’re the Emma Watson of Murray. Toss it in a recycling bin if you so wish.

Take a moment to meditate on what liberty you have with an object as elegantly untethered as this.

Relish the pure privacy of paying cash for a book that’s utterly immune to a zero percent battery. The only trace of your financial transaction will fade just as the scent of burning incense on your shirt will in the wash. Big brother won’t erase or alter the text in your sleep or track your reading progress. No digital rights management software will prevent you from lending as you see fit. Jeff Bezos won’t follow you to Wal-Mart, making misguided recommendations for similar books.

And if you throw the book away, you’re a monster. But a monster with peace of mind that once that poor paperback arrives at the pulper, it’s really gone and not logged in a cache.