An Analogue World

Milk comes out of cows. Apples grow on trees. And everything you see outside your window is analogue.

Analogue as opposed to digital.

The entire natural and physical world is analogue, except for the digital constructs we humans have created for our own convenience. We now run the risk of replacing much of our authentic analogue experience with fabricated digital formulations.

An example.

I’ve heard it said that some schools don’t bother anymore to teach youngsters how to read an analogue clock. That’s the one with a clock-face, a big hand, a little hand, and (where precision is thought to be necessary) a fast-moving second hand. Such clocks are, of course, found everywhere on earth. Most homes have at least one. Every main street has at least one. For town halls, they are a necessary part of the furniture.

… and who, I’d like to know, gave these self-styled educators the God-like power to affect the futures of their young charges adversely by withholding their access to such a useful item of knowledge as how to read an analogue clock? …

I remember – as a relative newcomer to the wide world – with an age then still in the single digits – struggling to come to grips with these arcane devices, viz. analogue clocks. I remember my teacher valiantly trying to help me (together with a class-full of other confounded kids) to get the hang of them. The problem was as difficult to master as was long division, or the extraction of square roots, terrors also to be found in the curriculum in those long gone days .

We were told that, for a time of 2 hrs 22 minutes, the big hand sits just beyond 2, and the little hand just beyond 4. It makes perfect sense now but, back then, it was far from intuitive. How much easier would it have been to read 2:22 from a digital clock? Why choose the hard way to do things?

I believe I can answer this. For a start, time doesn’t progress in incremental steps. It runs continuously. The movement of the big and little hands force us to realize this. The digital clock makes sudden jumps from 2:22 to 2:23, then from 2:23 to 2:24, and so on. There can be nothing in between. This is not how time actually works. Not in our universe. Analogue clocks run smoothly, thereby simulating the steady flow of time, which is exactly the sort of time we all live in.

Just as important, analogue clocks give us glimpses back into the recent past and forward into the near future, whereas digital clocks are rooted implacably in the present. Imagine the two scenarios below:

I’m expected at the meeting in exactly 40 minutes. If it takes me 20 minutes to drive there, and if I want to allow myself 10 minutes for unexpected delays, I had better get my arse into gear pretty damn soon to be on time.


Their flight should have landed two and a quarter hours ago give or take. Allowing them an hour to get through airport formalities, and another hour on the coach, they should be pounding at my door any moment now.

You can trace these scenarios out on a clock face in real time as we construct them in our minds. We do it as a matter of course, perhaps unconsciously. It is useful to be able to do so.

You cannot trace them out on a digital display.

Time is not the only quantity that can be represented in digital or analogue form. There are many many others. Just take a look around you.

Temperature, for example, can be read from a liquid-in-glass device or from an electronic gizmo. In the case of the liquid rising or falling continuously in the glass tube, you can get a feel for the way temperature operates in the real world. The electronic gizmo gives you no such feel.

And consider these two scenarios:

The mercury tells me the temperature right now is 18 C. The maximum for the day is forecast to be 25 C. I am told the overnight minimum was 8 C.


In the middle of summer, we can expect quite a few uncomfortable days in the low 40s. And I seem to remember a day a few winters back when there were ice crusts on the puddles in the morning. The temperature must then have dropped below zero over the previous night.

Just try visualizing these scenarios on a digital display.

Let’s not decry digital. We embraced it – in the first instance – for the convenience it offers us. It has a legitimate place in our lives. But the real world is not pixelated. It is ‘smoothed out’ so to speak. And analogue displays give invaluable insights into how things will be, could be, were, or might have been. Into how the real world operates. Kids should not be denied these crucial insights.

Yes, milk does come out of cows and, last time I looked, it comes in continuous streams from their udders. It also comes digitized for our convenience, bottled in half-litre, one-litre, or two-litre increments. But the original analogue source, viz. cows’ udders, tells us worlds more about the product we are consuming. Once bottled, it could be anything under the sun.

Give the kids the break they deserve. Expose them to the analogue.