Analog Heart, Beating Inside the Matrix


Photography // Jeff Wolfe

I was just lucky enough to join a four-way podcast conversation, the subject of which was the rocket scientist/magician Jack Parsons. Cultural historian Erik Davis, having written two essays on the man who became a myth was the focal-point of the interview with myself, Miguel Conner from Aeon Byte Radio and host Ryan Peverly of Occulture.

Aside from the incredibly intriguing Parsons talk, we veered off into more personal discussion about modern culture and the many challenges it poses for weirdo seekers. One comment has been swimming around my brain ever since we got off the call. Davis made the statement that he was unequivocally an “analog” person in light of the ubiquitous digital nature of everything under the sun. 

His lacking in ability to relate to the new generation, their lifestyles and behaviors is something he associated with his particular age. Me, being of a younger generation am apparently on the other side of that digital divide, but only perhaps from a technical sense. Internally and spiritually I see myself also as very much an analog type.

I prefer physical books, the outdoors and hardcopies of movies and music. I am the only person I know that still buys CDs when a band puts out a new album. It makes no practical sense but makes perfect sense to me. The tactile and tangible is something I respond to immensely, to the point of it being a strange quirk. 

There’s a calming and reaffirming effect felt when I can come home and scan over these objects sitting on a shelf. People my age overwhelmingly prefer the economy and mobility of digital possessions. I on the other hand don’t feel as though I possess something unless I can see it in physical space. A bizarre eccentricity I know, but I don’t really give a damn.




Born in 1981, I came of age in a VHS, cassette tape era. I didn’t get online until I went to college in 2000 or 2001. And even then, I did very little with it for years after. An early adopter I was not. I realize that time is long gone. Kids are born digital. They can navigate smart phones and tablets before they can read. It makes me realize the transitive state that I exist in. Not totally analog but not completely digital. I feel as though I’m part of the very last analog generation ever. Having graduated high school on the cusp of Y2K, my flip from youth to adult landed right on the turning of the centuries. In the history books, the 21st century will be noted as the first completely digital one.

Of course the breaks in technology are never that clean.

I should feel closer at heart to the millennials right behind me, but truthfully I feel more in tune with in spirit to children of the 70’s from which Davis comes. From his perspective, I’m perhaps part of a legion of odd aliens; disconnected from the real and willfully enslaved in a bubble of surveillance. A look around these days at people my age only reinforces that perception.

If you’re not connected, you’re not really alive. Death isn’t the same death as before either. Our social profiles immortalize us, our last likes and comments left to be visited by friends, family or strangers. Weird to think about indeed.

Even though I’m completely caught up in digital tech on one level, I think a lot like Erik in that the impersonal abstraction of it all is something to hold out some resistance against. Like Jesus said, to live inside the machine, but not be of the machine. Or that’s what he might say if he were around today to deliver his ministry through podcasts and YouTube.


In our roundtable discussion, Davis also brought up the concept of the underground or counterculture and how it relates to this post sci-fi reality. The underground in my mind was always a physical zone, composed of actual people interacting, creating and exchanging in community space. These were places where outcasts, weirdos, freaks, druggies and artists came together to develop a living experience of culture that then filtered out to the mainstream.

Historically, undergrounds existed in warehouses, apartments, music clubs, record stores or any number of other zones formed in a secret word-of-mouth fashion. This is not something I can say I’ve felt a part of since perhaps brief moments of my teenage life. But I understood exactly what Davis meant when he spoke of holding a strong fidelity to underground ethos. The question is whether those currents live now only in memory or the ephemera of old objects.  



These two notions of a burgeoning invasive tech world and a dying underground strike a deep cord for me personally and professionally. In fact, it has become the bane of an existential crisis going on in my 30’s.

I came up out of the underground most certainly after college and was ushered into the hustle of humdrum high aboveground in the offices of corporate America. I was hired into this professional world in part as a representative of an authentic creative underground that could be milked and processed for commercial consumption. As time goes by, I move further and further away from those dark, grungy spaces and grow more and more acclimated with the routine sameness of strip mall suburbia.

What’s left? To become the old guy who hires in the next wave of cool kids, weighing their street cred?

How many of us youth culture rebels have been sucked up into the system, accosted for our cool, until were naked and cornered. Up to the eye-balls in debt coming out of insanely expensive art schools, creative weirdos struck by a fear of drowning, strike sweet deals with the devil. In an economy of brutal competition, high interest rates, high rents and shrinking opportunity – media outfits of one sort or another throw out life preservers.

Corporations know who to woo creatives to the dark side, with appeals to ego and promises of being at the tip of the cultural spear. No one talks about ads anymore. That’s passé. It’s all about creating cool content. Right…

Sure, just like capitalism promises – everyone is free to leave whenever they want. And yet, that debt. That rent. Perhaps, those kids.

Once the recognition of this alienation sets in, there’s little place left to turn to reconnect with a sense of genuine connection than the Internet.

For a price, social media, apps and all the rest extract data to subvert our autonomy and prod us into thinking, feeling and behaving in a prescriptive manner. It should be simple to reject it all and refuse to participate. The rub in my situation is that despite the ethical conflict, the risk of complete alienation from the far away “others” feels too great. The loss of analog environments or points of underground contact in the adult world leaves me with this choice of long distance online contacts or next to none at all.

It’s not technology itself that is the issue. Analog nostalgia for me is rooted in the fantasy of purity and freedom. Not unrelated is a libertarian anti-surveillance ethic. The slow creep that acclimates us little by little to greater observing, cataloging and prodding slithers into our consciousness under the cloak of shinny objects.

Even in the old underground youth scenes individuals were still subject to peer influence and nobody wants to be out of the know. It creates the terrible pull between creating this self-molded identity that feels liberating and empowering only to use that highly drawn up personality as a currency to be gobbled up by the tech and corporate giants. The more flushed out our digital character, the more hypnotic the spaces we browse become.

My obvious confession is that in my workaday material life, I have little to no interactive human relationships that provide a necessary sense of being understood, accepted and heard. The ideas and lifestyles that are deeply important for me to discuss and explore have been best nurtured by online communities. These digital communities soften the hard edges of loneliness and confusion.

I have a belief that if I talked openly about myself with strangers I would be met with a blank stare. The wonderfully strange characters that I used to meet in my school days have all seem to faded away.

In a position of being overworked, crushed by social anxiety and juggling all sorts of obligations, blogging, posting and messaging feels like the last bastion for honest self-expression. It can feel like the only place to be heard or listened to. Writing a blog and hoping some other strange soul will read pushes just a little further off the dread of other problems with no solutions.

An underground of one is formed. An isolated mobile underground, where I launch out across time and space, landing in places unknown.

In my desire to be heard I strike a deal with agents of mind control. Communing with strangers is part of the game. My personal thoughts and intimate ideas are chronicled into abstract databases and clouds. Some of the information I give up can be sold, most is probably worthless. To them, anyhow.
The contradictions within me are glaring and not as unique as a snowflake. This tension between analog and digital is pervasive, maybe even for those millennials that Gen-Xers can’t seem to understand.



I do my best to experience the world in an analog way as much as possible. Walking in nature, meditating, reading bounded books, writing in notebooks, drawing on paper, seeing music performed live. At best, these are small spaces carved out from an otherwise dominating virtual landscape. To unplug, disconnect and log-off takes discipline and conscientious choice. The sense of missing something or even not existing outside of the web is potent and purposefully addictive. To be turned off is the act of rebellion. But turning off feels like turning ourselves off, pulling the plug once and for all.

Our digital selves are constructed by so many pixels and codes. Profiles can be filled out to demonstrate just how complicated and interesting we are. That’s the buzz of it. Total control over our public appearance. It stays cool on my worse days and portraits happiness and success even though I haven’t made genuine human contact in weeks. To hundreds of people who have never even met me, all I am is a page, a profile, a thumbnail sized image. Would there be a qualitative difference if I were just a robot.

When the self that I’ve constructed online can’t be acted out or embodied, who is the self who acts offline. Is it the same person, or someone different? It becomes hugely problematic when my offline self has no avenue of expression in real time within an actual community. It necessities the return back to the online self or risk becoming disoriented. That self has a network that serves to reinforce that identity and respond and in some way, recognizing me as I want to be seen.  



But damn it if it isn’t still altogether unfulfilling. Devoid of eye contact, body language and emotive voice – the brain or maybe the soul knows what it lacks. The three-dimensional effects that satisfies so many of our senses yearns for engagement. Even as I think that, companies with billions of dollars are working to finally realize VR in a way that will satisfy those needs, fooling our pesky hearts. The flatness of the screen will soon be overcome. Will I go along with that too?

There has to be a better way. In the time being I cling to both this digital mode of expression and an experiential analog one. I try my best to make them congeal, knowing all the well which side of the equation needs to be enhanced.

To be human and to feel human is analog, authentic, flawed and raw. As of yet, there is no way to approach spiritual experience through an interface. Based on my predilections, there is no stronger argument for the analog life than that. As long as I attempt to merge into mystic states, it will be rooted in a body-mind process. To engage in a ritual is an advanced technology, connecting the soul to ancient culture. Spirit technology is a hell of a thing and I cherish that part of my day.


Spirit opens up in the quiet spaces of solitude. When the senses are engaged naturally, the soul responds. To be under the light of the stars. To be immersed in water. To be surrounded by trees. To hear nothing but the activity of wildlife. To exert the body through hills and up mountains. Even the clean air filling your lungs is mystical in the proper frame of mind.


This is not meant to argue for a luddite primitivism. This is not another screed against social media. It is however a reflection on the sacredness of the analog, the innocence of the underground and revulsion towards some of the ways I have allowed myself to give up on those principles in some measure.   


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