Communication Ethics book part for Fundamental Property: Everything Is Digital. (This is an automatically generated summary to avoid having huge posts on this page. Click through to read this post.)
in Communication Ethics
Everything is digital. There is no analog to speak of; analog is an artifact of technology, with little to no discernable advantages over digital, except for generally requiring somewhat less sophisticated technology to create and use.
Why is this true? Because digital subsumes analog into itself: Everything analog can become digital, with all the copying and distribution benefits thereof. The Internet even provides us with a way to digitize things that might seem like too much effort to digitize by allowing people to easily distribute the workload. Even the daunting task of digitizing centuries of books has been undertaken, and by now, any book that is old enough to be out of copyright, and is famous enough for you to think of off the top of your head, has been digitized and is available at Project Gutenburg. Other examples:
- The Project Gutenburg Distributed Proofreaders convert public domain books into electronic text by parceling out the various necessary actions to many people. One person scans in the book, a page at a time, which currently is the hardest thing any single person has to do, though there is some hope that robotics can take over this job in the future. The pages are run through an OCR software program, which is much better then nothing but is very noticably inaccurate. The Distributed Proofreaders project uses the web to then present each page and the results of the OCR to a human, who corrects the errors the computer has made. The page and the corrected text are then presented to a second human for further verification, and finally one person knits all the contributions into a whole, coherent e-text.
As I write this, the Distributed Proofreaders are doing such things as War Poetry of the South by William Gilmore Simms (ed.), Quatrevingt-Treize, Abridged by Victor Hugo, in the original French and English, Lessons and Manual of Botany by Asa Gray, and Familiar Quotations by Bartlett (edition not specified). If anything, I've biased this list in favor of the things I at least recognize (Victor Hugo and Familiar Quotations), as I do not immediately recognize anything else they are currently doing. The "popular" works have long since been done.
- The market grew tired of waiting for popular books like the Harry Potter series to be translated into their language, so a distributed translation project sprung up around Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix and had it translated into German, in at least an attempt to beat the official translation. Conversions of the book into digital form were available online before the book was even officially released, transcribed from the book. Even before the book was officially published as an E-book, the information was digitized.
- In fact it's getting so easy to transfer book content into the digital realm that book stores were briefly concerned about people coming in with cameras on their celluar phones and taking pictures of the pages of books and magazines.
And that's the hard stuff, like text content. Audio content is so easy to digitize, with such high quality, as such low prices, it's actually shaking up the music industry as it becomes possible for garage bands to suck their sound into the digital realm and manipulate it like the professionals do. Some domains are still tough, like sculpture and 3D art, but certainly not impossible; for instance, every major special-effects-laden movie now uses motion capture, which digitizes motion, frequently in conjunction with machines that scan the actual contours of someone's face, so an actor's face can be used on the computer model. Someday we'll be able to do this in our garages, too, because all that is theoretically needed is a camera, enough processing power, and some clever algorithms; the elaborate setups and dot-laden costumes used by the professionals currently are merely expressions of our technological limitations. It seems to be an unofficial goal of the next generation of gaming consoles (PS3 as of this writing) to have some primitive versions of this capability; one implementation already exists in the form of the EyeToy for the PlayStation 2.
There is a tempation to try to partition communication ethics into "Analog" ethics and "Digital" ethics, but it is hopeless because in the end, there is no real fundamental difference between the two. "Analog" is just a special case of "Digital" where the limitations of technology happen to make it unusually difficult to copy reliably, but that property is not fundamental to the underlying message. There is no point in trying to distinguish between "analog" and "digital" ethically. Talking about the "analog hole" is meaningless; it's just a glorified way of saying that people's ability to copy your content is a problem, with the word "analog" just muddying the discussion.
Actually, I'm bending the truth here for simplicity's sake; ethically, the representation is simply meaningless until it's converted at some point into something a human can experience. So it's not that "everything's digital", it's that for our purposes there's simply no such thing as "digital" vs. "analog". Whether a song is stored as pits on a plastic platter or as magnetic variations on a metallic tape, the medium doesn't matter to the message. But given the way most people currently think of the word "digital", saying "everything is digital" is more likely to be correctly understood.