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Kodak Bankruptcy: Musings On The Digital-Analog Divide

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I read with some dismay the news about Kodak's potential demise and the "Death of the Tangible" on NPR's web site. It was the same dismay I felt when our neighborhood Barnes and Noble fell to a CVS store despite aggressive community protests and when, shortly thereafter, another local Borders went under. The latter is now a derelict chunk of empty real estate and we have a "consumer value store" on every block.

Like independent bookstores, Kodak has been "shaken to its core by a digital revolution," according to an AP report. No surprise there. Once revolutions took place over the course of a generation. Now they seem to happen every year. Admittedly I'm sentimental about certain things that are disappearing in the analog world, and there's nothing more unhip these days than sentimentality, right?

Everyone loves their digital cameras - and there's nothing not to love. We can snap zillions of photos for a fraction of the cost, discard what we don't like, photo-shop them, upload them to Flickr, and share them through social media. Never mind that the vast majority of our photos end up stored in our hard drives, or that the uber-pervasiveness of the digital world has chipped away at the artistic realm where craft and vision converge. Everyone is a photographer. Kodak is on its last gasp. And old-fashioned photo albums, with their crackly plastic overlays and faded print narratives, are a thing of the past. Or are they?

Says Seattle-based photographer David Perry: "I do not think that traditional photography is dead, and do think there will be a renaissance, or rather, several small renaissances over time that will grow out of the visions of individuals who love a particular medium or love the unique look that results from a particular combination of mediums enough to source those increasingly elusive materials with which to create them. Rarity adds value in the art world. When film becomes scarce, its value will rise and that will create demand for images made the old fashioned way. But on any sort of large, scalable, commercial level, traditional film and paper, toxic chemical based photography is as dead as the Edsel."

Harry Saddler, an information and interaction designer and photographer, echoes the sentiment. "Although the new technology generally allows the 'old look' to be replicated (and initially, that's mostly what people try to use it for), eventually the old technology achieves a new appreciation for its particular qualities - not least, the association with the craft itself... the old technology is stripped of its workaday role, and becomes a specialty 'artisanal' technology."

The divide between the analog and digital world does indeed grow bigger every day and has an impact on the most basic things. Even handwriting seems antiquated (does anyone learn cursive anymore?) as the way we see, communicate, read (if we read) and experience time morphs. The idea of an 'artisanal' technology, however, is not unlike vinyl records, which have experienced a comeback. In addition to the more nuanced, tonal depth that comes with this analog medium, "people like the expanded experience of vinyl - larger covers, larger bells and whistles, the information of lyrics - anything that allows you to have a deeper relationship with the music that goes beyond consumption," says Gary Stewart, former iTunes executive with a lifetime of experience in the music business. "An old form of art or music never goes away if it's good enough or meaningful enough to a new generation."

This begs the question: what exactly will be good or meaningful enough to the next generation? Hard to pin a tail on that donkey when it's traveling at warp speed. So is traditional photography dead? Will ebooks replace print books? Will streaming Netflix replace movie theaters? Will YouTube replace traditional TV programming? Will future generations be born with prehensile thumbs? Only time, and the vagaries of technology, will tell.