Demystifying Technology · Digital Literacy Reconsidered · Education

The Overbranding of Digital

Last week in a class conversation, I made mention of analog and digital. One student paused, and then asked if I could define analog since they weren’t familiar with the term. My response in the moment was to point at my ears, my eyes, and my mouth and its voice box as illustrations of analog processing of information. This information is transmitted in one continuous signal from sender to receiver. As but one example, adjustment of pitch and amplitude serve to adjust the sound we will hear as we speak or sing.

If we record a sequence of sounds within a digital instrument, we need to take and save samples at a defined interval to create an estimate of that continuous signal. In so doing, we simplify and increase the amount of data that can be collected, saved, and edited. As a result, many of our daily technologies are digital, not analog.

But does this mean humans, as analog beings, have lost our relevance?

At the best of times, we continue to understand that it is humans and the many other living, analog beings around us that are the creators, the practitioners, the constituencies and communities, that collaborate to achieve each others valued beings and doings. And as such, we each continue to become ever more high performing. The intellectual work of collecting, sharing, and saving data, of turning that data into information, of expanding on that information to advance knowledge, and and of using that knowledge to advance power within ourselves and power with each other is ultimately an analog work which is sometimes facilitated through our use of digital technologies along with our many non-digital technologies.

But too often we use digital within a statement, e.g., digital age, as a branding of digital as the bringer of a utopian state, particularly as we further extend this to computer-mediated reality, smartphones, watches, and homes, and many other marketed products of today.  Today we’ve even gone to describing a certain population of humans as digital natives, those who grew up in the digital age with very different ways of thinking and processing information. That this way of thinking and processing might reflect the incessant noise of commercials which shorten the story line to a few, brief segments, or which demand the highlighting of stories, songs, and art that are marketable is not at issue. For it is digital technology that will save us from our analog failings.

Is it possible we are overbranding digital?

Might it be that we’ve lost sight of how the analog — the analog that was at the beginning of the earth and other planets, and of the sun and other stars, the analog that continues to this day and that will continue throughout the existence of the galaxy — will continue to exist precisely because it is the best way evolution found for there to be a reality?

Might we have forgotten that the digital is but one creation of the human species, and that too often it is shaped to serve as a means for some to have power over the many?

Might it be that we need to start teaching more often and more deeply about the analog?

One thought on “The Overbranding of Digital

  1. I don’t know why, but this made me think of an old TV show you might have heard of….

    introduction: There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur, or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly, and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to… The Outer Limits.

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