Call it nostalgia, call it retro, call it a fad perpetrated by a bunch of spoiled brat children who don't know how good they have it. Whatever you call it there's no denying the impact the current trend towards analog is having on American high tech culture. While the rest of the world's scrambling just to keep up with the advances in computer technology, a small yet vocal group of teenagers are making long-established high tech giants such as Apple, Microsoft and Corel scramble to fill the analog void left by the socioeconomic leap to a digital based culture. Rebirth or backlash? What happens when our analog past rears its ugly head? Pctyrant takes a hard look at this troubling trend that raises such profound questions.

"This rejection of an uncertain future is a common theme in all cultures," says Jan Harold Brunvand author of The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings. " In fact, we can see this fear played out daily in the stories we tell one another. Take for example the story of the poodle in the microwave… or the boy's stomach that explodes after eating a package of Pop Rocks and drinking a whole Coke. As far-fetched as these stories are they reflect our collective fears of things we don't understand. As a chronicler of these stories I have not been surprised at the new wave of techno fear urban legends. The most current involves a reckless teenage boy on a drunken binge who accidentally shoots and kills himself while surfing the Internet. When the police arrive four days later they notice that the computer is still downloading an MP3 of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" off Napster. What makes this believable is that it reflects our concerns about new technologies... that and the fact that not many people have DSL connections yet, so the listener just assumes that the boy had a 28k modem. So when you think about it, four days to download a seven minute song is not all that unreasonable."

But what effect is this growing rejection of digital having on our public schools? Vice principal Sandra McMillan of San Santa Villa La Vista High School in San Rafael had this to say: "At first we thought it was the work of a few class clowns and cut ups. Kids would raise their hands because they forgot their pencil or complain that the dog ate their homework. Teachers assumed they were making a joke... but they were actually serious. After some investigation we realized that these children still did their homework with pen and paper, so forgetting their pencil was a real problem as it prevented them from completing their assignments. We also noticed that these 'analogers' as the other students referred to them, tended to know one another and hang out in groups...much like gangbangers would. We felt it was important to nip this problem in the bud. We already had rules against gang colors, bandannas and baggy pants so it was not difficult to add pens, paper and pencils to the list of banned gang attire. Naturally there were some complaints from parents, so we had them investigated by Child Protective Services as they were obviously neglecting their children. If these parents weren't spending so much money on drugs and partying they could easily afford to get their children a computer.... I mean, this is their future were talking about damn it!

But should all children be forced or encouraged to use digital devices? Some scientists believe that this approach could have detrimental effects on a small yet significant segment of our youth. "Increasingly, we are finding that not all children can adapt to a digital environment" says UCSC Professor Sigmund Johnson, "and our studies show that this may be genetic, in other words these children may be 'hardwired' for an analog environment."

Seizing this information the ACLU has filed a class action lawsuit against Milpitas high in Milpitas, California on behalf of six students who claim they are biologically incapable of adapting to the laptops that are now required for all advanced placement English classes. "The Americans With Disabilities Act protects all Americans from discrimination," says attorney Robert Rodriguez. " When teachers and schools refuse to accept homework that is written with pen and paper, they are closing the doors on hundreds of students who cannot submit their work on disk due to social economic or biological predispositions. This is wrong...not just ethically and morally, but more importantly... legally."

Although the concern over the Digital Revolution is a hotly debated subject among the educated elite, not all are ready to embrace the past. Harvard Anthropologist Dr. Ken Fischer author of 'Anologic: The New Cyberwars' had this to say. "Although it's true that most analog devices increase human interaction, it's also true that increased interaction can lead to conflict, embarrassment and awkward situations... it's not that we should intentionally avoid one another, it's just that we must be aware of the risks that are involved when strangers and or even casual acquaintances are forced to interact in a spontaneous manner. Avoidance techniques are useful and beneficial tools in minimizing these risks. Email, for example, is without a doubt the most effective way to reduce the risks of actual human interaction...scientifically speaking "

Jennifer Smith, a children's art instructor at the Infant and Toddler Art Academy in San Jose is equally worried about the digital backlash. "'What if little billy realizes his crayon drawing of snoopy needs some lens flare with a 39 degree angle of refraction, or a radial gradient? what can he do ? his artistic statement has been profoundly compromised by the analog environment... he might give up altogether, when if he only had a computer, he might of gone on to be a genius at, say, pressing the 'beveled edges' command, or give us a new type of highlight to put on 3d lettering!! Unfortunately, I feel that most parents do not seriously consider the effect an analog environment can have on a child's self-esteem. How can a child stay artistically competitive when they are restricted...or disadvantaged buy the use of such primitive tools as paper, crayons, scissors and glue. Look, children are young for such a short time... why squander it on frivolous doodling?"

Are the worries of our educators and parents founded or are the naysayers and rights activists correct? Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in between. If this country truly stands for freedom, I suppose that must include the freedom to reject, no matter how misguided and naive, the digital tidal wave. Futhermore, at what point to the concerns for educating our children and modernizing our society conflict within an individual's right to choose? Should the free market decide? Should Congress decide? Should anyone decide? Perhaps the decision has already been made and we are just battling over semantics and style.

Boys will be boys. Sam Johanson may be called a rebel for his love of analog interfaces but some scientists feel this preference may be biological.

The continued use of analog devices such as this "photo album" does bring people together, but human interaction can also lead to conflict or awkward situations.

A jar of pencils.This primitive writing tool is still favored by many people.

Some schools are forbidding the use of analog devices such as this writing table and "pen". But some lawmakers feel that prohibition can never work and that education is the key.

This boy is creating art with a set of pens on yellow paper. But what if he would like to change the background color or makes a mistake? Analog interfaces lack undo features or layered elements that are standard in digital imaging editors such as Photoshop.

PCTyrant reviews some of this year's hottest Analog products from Apple, Microsoft, Corel and Caere.

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