Analog über Digital!
The Analogger: our new and anonymous columnist rants on making it mechanistic and leaving the digital on your phone...
Do you remember a time when your vehicle didn’t answer you back?
A time when you got in, turned the key and all you heard was the sound of the engine?
No beeps? No buzzes? No rings to admonish you for not wearing a seatbelt or parking too close to other stuff? No claxon wail to make you crap yourself when a pushbike comes within half a meter of your bumper sensor?
When the dashboard didn’t light up like a Galaxy Class starship and start firing requests at you? When all was stillness, when your car waited for you, didn’t ask anything from you? When all it needed was to be driven?
My motor – which shall remain anonymous to protect its identity from the post-luddite analogue haters – has, I’m proud to say, an actual fag lighter, and the flashiest piece of backlit kit on the dash is a compass.
It has a stripped back utilitarian feel that owes more to the Millennium Falcon than a TRON light cycle and is, to me at least, something of a comforting throwback in this brave new digital epoch where your watch can tell you just what a fat git you are while your fridge reminds you that you’re running low on fat git fodder.
I’m not against tech or microchips when they are in the right product. But in this era – of cars that are actually laptops and of the horrendously entitled ‘internet of things’ – it seems there is a horrible ‘hybridisation’ happening in our culture. Everything, in other words, is trying to be too many things at once. In doing so, everything is losing track of its true, central function.
Much has been made recently, perhaps partly due to the long, drawn out recession that occurred after the banks collapsed in 2007, of craftsmanship. Of authenticity and of the much vaunted ‘Artisan’. The hipsters have thus imbued their products with ‘traditional, hand made values’ and so command a tidy premium. The same is certainly true of some parts the custom motorbike scene – and of course every mainstream manufacturer from BMW Motored to Ducati have sought to tweak our artisanal nipples with their retro-inspired mainstream model.
But this ‘craftsman-as-hero’ isn’t new and isn’t just linked to recessions. Homer wrote a poem about Hephaestus the master god of craftsmen. Five hundred years later Plato was pouring forth his angst that the age of the craftsman was over. And so it goes on through industrial revolutions and on to digitised mass consumerism.
Through all this the craftsman will survive because people will hanker after authenticity, after the object as near art.
But that’s not what I’m concerned with here. For me hand made doesn’t always equal better. Personally I like my booze from a big brewery that’s been at it for years, and as for bread I’m happy with sliced white.
What I am concerned with is (in the auto business at least) the option for a punter of the analogue persuasion to be able to choose mechanicity over circuitry. There was, for a while, a period where if you wanted wind down windows manufacturers produced a base model that would suit you. That time is gone, not due to lack of demand, but due to rationalisation of production.
The fact is that digital in itself is not better, but cheaper and easier. Digital in itself is not safer, but cheaper and easier. Digital in itself is not more emission efficient, but cheaper and easier.
The regulation and legislation that killed off the ultimate in British analogue transport – the Defender – regulations and legislation that now seem an inevitable facet of ‘progress’, can be answered in a more mechanical, more analogue way. But at a cost.
From the focus group to factory tooling the game is loaded against metal and in favour of silicon. And in the opinion of this hack we are the poorer for it – as is the sanitised, digitised, airtight, beep filled experience of where machine meets road.
So if you’re of an analogue bent and want the thrill of driving an actual car on an actual road, rather than helping co- pilot a hi-tech hovercraft, what can you do right here, right now?
Well, if you’ve got the cash – and can actually find one for sale – you could go down the Noble route. Built from the ground up in Leicester their cars neatly prove my point. They clearly meet today’s safety and emissions standards in a high speed and purely analogue fashion. But scarcity and price put it beyond the reach of most of us.
Another route is to look to the classic car. To buy motors from an era where the digital car could only be found on Saturday tea time telly, driven by big blokes with talking watches and a good left hook.
The problem is that, while the upswing in recent years of the classics market might suggest I’m not a lone voice in hankering after mechanicity, we have to remember it is just that – a ‘market’ – and one where I fear investment economics rather than aesthetics or pre-digital nostalgia is the main mover.
Many of these machines are now ‘Sleeping Beauties’. Lying comatose in a vacuum bag in a high-security barn somewhere in Surrey whilst their owners do their daily rounds in a Range Rover with enough computing power to run Ronnie Reagan’s Star Wars defence program.
There are of course more affordable ‘newer’ classics that tick our non-digital boxes, with proper clocks and dials, nobs on the radio and wind down windows that you can fix yourself for a few quid without a masters in computer science. This doesn’t mean that they are mechanically brilliant, often far from it actually.
This shouldn’t have to be a proverbial baby and bathwater issue. What I want to see are some cars today, now, where the focus is on state-of-the-art mechanics rather than digital tat. Where what goes on under the bonnet is more important than what is on the dash.
Perhaps the car industry will follow a similar path to what’s occurring in the motorcycle world right now. Perhaps independent custom shops will retrofit modern production cars, stripping out the extraneous digital dross and aiming for a clean aesthetic twinned with mechanical excellence.
When the analogue-loving public out there (and they are out there, look at the high end Hi- Fi business) start commissioning these projects and they become the fodder of hip media platforms, then some manufacturers may smell cash.
When they do perhaps a Ford or Toyota will do a Ducati or Triumph and produce stripped back factory options for those of us who want state of the art mechanics without the digital bells or silicon whistles.
Those of you that vehemently disagree with my position please feel free to troll me from your ‘in car’, voice activated, communication console.
Or you could just keep it old school. Just hit your horn and give me the finger.
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