posted Jun 23, 2003
in Communication Ethics

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.)

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:

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.


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