Nov. 14, 2022

David Sax | The Future is Analog

David Sax | The Future is Analog

David Sax is questioning our cultures ambition to build a fully digital world. One where we're constantly connected and entertained, with gratification always a click away. So the question is: what future do we want?

David Sax is questioning our cultures ambition to build a fully digital world. One where we're constantly connected and entertained, with gratification always a click away. The pandemic gave us a taste of this digitized future, and for many of us, it left much to be desired. So the question is: what future do we want?

Subscribe for ad-free interviews and bonus episodes


Hosted on Acast. See for more information.

Maximize Your Output With Mem 

The knowledge generation course for coaches, consultants, content creators, and small business owners who want to access and use their knowledge to create content, build a body of work, and grow their business. Enrollment for October Cohort is Now Open. 

Click Here to Learn More



Srini: David, welcome to Unmistakable Creative. Thanks so much for taking the time to join us.

David Sax: I'm gonna do that, like head-tilting, anti-lilt thing when I do it, then.

Srini: Exactly. So you have a new book out called The Futures of Analog. I loved your previous book, The Revenge of Analog, as somebody who swears by physical books, writes in a bullet journal every day and is always big on meeting people face-to-face instead of online. I would much rather be doing this with you in person, but geographical limitations are what they are. But before we get into all of that, I want to start by asking you what was the very first job that you ever had and what impact did that end up having on what you've ended up doing with your life and your career?

David Sax: Ski instructor?

Srini: Whoa!

David Sax: Yeah

Srini: Okay. That's as cool as the first job. Like most people, I worked at McDonald's.

David Sax: Yeah. Listen, don't call it a white privilege for no reason.

Srini: Yeah!

David Sax: I also was in high school, I was someone who was obsessed with skiing and had always been skiing since I was three years old. I'm a better skier than I am a writer and pretty much everything else in life. And I had seen an article in Powder about the ski bum lifestyle and I brought it to my friend Dan Steely in a Grade Nine assembly. And I'm like, "Dude when we finish high school, we gotta move out west and get jobs as ski instructors." And we had just watched the seminal ski movie called Aspen Extreme, starring Peter Berg who went on to become a major actor.

Srini: Yeah.

David Sax: This is the fish out of water tale of two bums from Michigan who moved to Aspen to become ski instructors. And everything that happened to them, a great drama movie.

Srini: What isn't there? A beautiful British woman is the main female lead. Bryce

David Sax: Yes.

Srini: Of course. Yeah.

David Sax: Yeah, a fabulous movie. I would, I...

Ella: Hey Srini! How are you?

Srini: I'm doing great, Ella. How about you?

David Sax: Start an Aspen Extreme podcast, would I? So yeah, I got a job for a couple of years here at the local hill just outside Toronto, which when you talk about glamorous, cool jobs you're talking about 12-year-olds and trying to get the ski boot into the binding. That's like the tip of the iceberg it's literally the most backbreaking job outside of heavy construction or working in an open-pit Chinese coal mine. Like it's...

Srini: No.

David Sax: It is the twisting required, but great. And then I ended up teaching; I taught in Whistler, and I've taught in Australia. I tried teaching my kids, but then I'm like, "Nope, I need some 16-year-old to do this for me 'cause my back can't handle it."

Srini: Yeah. What did your students, particularly the younger ones, teach you about being a better teacher?

David Sax: I think you just gotta you have to let go of a certain type of belief of how things are gonna go because each student, each day is different and the weather's different, and the snow's different, right? There are all these elements that you have no control over, and you really have to adapt to all those things that you have no control over, do as much as you can to let them roll off your back. Because if you're gonna become frustrated by the conditions or someone's becoming frustrated, you have one person in the class who's much better than the others you're not gonna get anywhere. And so it's, that release of control and acceptance of a certain kind of inevitability of the variability of life. That allows you to figure it out and just know that no, you're not there to make every single person the greatest skier in the world. You're just there to show them a good time and keep them safe. Maybe teach them one thing that allows them to enjoy this sport that they're paying a tremendous amount of money to do, even for one day Right?

Srini: It's funny at the moment you said "show them a good time". I'm sure you've seen the South Park episode, right? Where they're teaching the kids how to ski.

David Sax: Oh, yeah.

Srini: Guys, it's just pizza or French fries. If you choose pizza when you're supposed to have French fries, you're gonna have a bad time.

David Sax: That's it. That's all you need to know really.

Srini: Yeah!

David Sax: Out there on the mountain, kids

Srini: Oh, speaking of kids on the mountain, the thing that's so intriguing to me, I remember being up at this place called Mountain High here in Southern California, and there's this little girl with her dad and she starts just bombing down these moguls and she looks back at her dad. She's like, "Come on dad, you're dragging!" And I'm like, "Wow." So what is it about that, like when kids start, particularly with sports like skiing or surfing, you see these kids who start at such a young age? Part of me thinks they don't have any semblance of fear. Their center of gravity is a little different, why is it that they pick up things like this so fast at a younger age, and then you get to be my age? I was 30-something when I learned to snowboard, but the first time I went to college, I was the only one of my friends who couldn't get down the mountain without falling. Now, none of those people could hold a candle to me on the mountain.

David Sax: Yeah, I think it's there, the inbuilt fear, the genuine analog realities of the human body and its lack of elasticity over the years, which decreases as you age. It's interesting. Like, I taught kids as young as three and I taught people for the first time in their seventies and eighties. And, I think as a kid, your conception of the world is so pure. If something's fun, you want to do it to the max. If you don't like something and you're afraid, you're gonna break down. Adults are in between; we know how to manage those emotions, whereas kids are so open and honest about it.

So all of a sudden, the kids are terrified when they start; they're really scared. And I've seen that with even my own kids with skiing or biking, right? And then, all of a sudden, they pass—they might pass a certain point and it clicks—and all of a sudden it's like, off to the races.

My daughter has always had this sort of fearlessness with skiing, and I remember when we were in Lake Louise, Alberta, and my nephew, who's like a speed demon, just took off

Srini: Yeah!

David Sax: for it. And I think that's something that you learn as you get older in life, that there are consequences that you should maybe heed on certain things.

Srini: Totally.

David Sax: The purity of the mind of a child allows for that. That's wonderful. That's why playgrounds are awesome and kids are breaking their arms. It's carnage.

Srini: It's funny because my parents, there was one toy within their means that they would not buy me for the life of them. And it was a skateboard. And I remember after I started surfing, I was in Venice one day 'cause I was staying at my parents' house and they're inland and I brought home aboard. My mom was like, "What the heck is that?" I was like, "You know what, I'm 36 years old. This is a skateboard, I'm done with your no-skateboarding bullsh*t. I'm like, I'm gonna skateboard." And my dad went to Costco and like he said, "Here's a helmet, please use it." And that was it. But it was funny. I jokingly say I was like, "That's what happens, Mom." I'm like, "You and my logic," I told my mom, I was like, "You realize how stupid that argument was." She was like, "Kids who skateboard break bones." I was like, "Yeah, adults who skateboard break bones, and those bones don't heal. And then you end up with a son who's got a pathological inability to avoid anything that

David Sax: And it's. Yeah, it's funny I'm, also like a late-life skater, right? Like I took up skateboarding and surfing when I was in my twenties.

Srini: Yeah.

David Sax: 'Cause I'm livin' inland and I dunno, it was never something that I did. And yeah, there I got a surf skate last year, which is a type of skateboard. And I remember, I went to I took it out to the park and I was doing it at the hockey, the sort of hockey rink. And it was like, I was just in a pair of slip-on Vans and my ankles were killin'. Like, I was hobblin' the next day. And I went to the skate store and the first guy who owned the store was like, "Yeah, you need a pair of like high tops, know that that'll give you the support." And then I went back to try them on once he'd ordered them in and the young guy there was like, "I don't know, man, you could just try stretchin'." I was like, "In 20 years, you're gonna feel this."

Srini: Yeah!

David Sax: But yeah, the freedom of it's funny 'cause if you're like, "Oh, I work out six times a week with a trainer," People are like, "Good for you, David. Yeah, that's what you should be doing." Or, "Oh, I'm really into my tennis game." But you're like, "Yeah, I'm into skating." They're like, "What kind of a loser are you, man? You're in your forties. What are you doing? Skating?"

Srini: Yeah. I had a friend who was asking me about this. He was wondering, "What is it that draws people like you to action sports?" Because I was a terrible athlete. I was the "most improved" player on my seventh-grade team. Yeah.

David Sax: It draws us to action sports.

Srini: Yeah, no, 'cause I, I said I was the most improved player on my seventh-grade basketball team, which just means you're the shabbiest player on the team in seventh grade. It's not like Jimmy Butler in the NBA when he's the most improved player, it actually means something. But that was like a big draw to me. I said, here's the thing. In an action sport like surfing or snowboarding, if somebody else is, if you're performing shabby that day, you don't bring down the level of performance for everybody else. Yeah.

David Sax: One of the most important things that I have learned is that it is important to try and take time to really listen to people when they are speaking. That way, I can ensure that I have a better understanding of what they are saying and that I am really hearing them.

Srini: They're coming to visit us tomorrow.

David Sax: Yeah!

Srini: Which is, I think, the real appeal of it in a lot of ways. It's self-serving. It's like, basically, because we're not good team players, we choose action sports.

David Sax: There's some truth

Srini: Yeah!

David Sax: harsh

Srini: Gotta ask, what is the narrative about careers and making your way in the world with your parents considering you decided to go be a ski bum? Because I can damn well tell you, if I told my parents, "Hey, I'm gonna go be a ski bum instead of go to Berkeley," they would've been like, "The hell you are!"

David Sax: It was, a sort of gap year thing. So it was always understood that this was not a permanent thing. My parents are the ones who got me into skiing. They're the ones who are the most passionate skiers; every trip we took as a family, as a kid was pretty much a ski trip. Trust me, they were really happy. I was out in Whistler. They came and visited three times. You're going to university next year, right? Yeah, of course. And I did, and then spent every Friday at university skiing in Vermont. It

Srini: Okay, speaking of which, so how do you go from ski instructor to journalist to writing books about the downsides of technology?

David Sax: One turn at a time, three

Srini: Yeah.

David Sax: At a time, as T.J. Burke would say.

Srini: Yeah.

David Sax: I mean, we all have multiple loves in our life, right? So growing up I loved skiing, I loved weird, and I loved reading. I was a kid whose parents would send me Archie comics and Newsweek to summer camp in the mail, and candy or whatever. I loved the news and I loved reading books I was reading novels and nonfiction books when I was in junior high. And so I always had this love for writing and ideas in the world. And I wanted to be a journalist, a war correspondent. And though the Iraq war started, I don't know, like months after I graduated, I was like, eh, don't really feel like dying. So I ended up in Argentina and just wrote and had ideas. And one of those ideas turned into a book, and I wrote two books about food.

And as a freelancer, which is what I've been, I've never had a job. Literally, the last job I had was teaching skiing. I've always just had the necessity and the ability, the freedom to pursue whatever dumb idea was in my head, the curiosity that was nagging at me. And the first analog book, which is actually the third book I've written in this series

Srini: Yeah.

David Sax: This new book came out of that same way of curiosity but in more of an urgent situation related to what I was going through at the beginning of the pandemic.

Srini: Yeah, that's, that's the sense that I got, was that this was like a giant rant on how miserable life was during the pandemic with some really eloquent

David Sax: With context, it's easy to see why people have reacted to the news in this way.

Srini: For sure, with context. Yeah, no, absolutely.

David Sax: Research.

Srini: Yeah, no, without a doubt. And we'll get into that. One question about your life as a writer. This is something I wonder, having spent time abroad myself and having lived in different countries, I feel like that has been so informative on my perspective as a writer. I would not be a writer if I hadn't spent the six months I did in Brazil when I was a graduate student, because that's where I caught my first wave. And that first wave was the start of everything. A place called Gupaba in the south of Brazil, it's about two hours from Santa. Yeah, it's about two hours.