Digital

Digital. © Benoît Labourdette.

What is “digital”? Etymologically (17th Century), it is what has to do with numbers and their calculation. But since the advent of computers in the 1960s, “digital” refers to signals (text, image, sound, multimedia, etc.) transformed into numbers so that they can be processed by computers.

The digital is opposed to analog; for example, a vinyl record (analog) preserves the sound by burning a groove whose curve is analogous to the vibrations in the air, whereas in digital (CD, file, streaming), the sound is preserved in the form of a series of numbers representing, in a simplified way, this same curve of the vibrations of the air.

In summary, analog is a trace of the real (example: the negative in silver photography), whereas digital is a digital coding of this trace.

Until now, computers have used the binary code: numbers are represented as 0 and 1 only (the “bit”, the elementary unit of digital information). It is a very poor information (binary...), that’s why the bits are organized by groups of 8 (“the byte”). These 8 bits allow 256 possible combinations of 0 and 1, so one byte can store a number between 0 and 255, which can, for example, represent a letter of the alphabet, thanks to an international standard called the ASCII code. It is thanks to this type of common standard that computers can communicate with each other.

For example, each character in the text you are reading corresponds to a byte, which itself is a group of 8 bits. Bits can be stored in a thousand ways: black or white squares (the QR codes), magnetic magnetization (hard disks), light or dark (optical fibres), sound or silence (magnetic tapes and old modems), microcassette or flat (CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs) . The digital code can change media without losing information, unlike analog, which is dependent on its medium (you can’t put a vinyl disc in a cassette player for example).

We extend the term “digital” to all its uses: “digital video”, “digital cultures”, “digital economy”, “digital rights”, etc.

Content linked to Digital

Benoît Labourdette is a filmmaker, educator, expert in new media, cultural innovation and entrepreneur. He was born in 1970. He founded, among others, the Court Bouillon screenings (1988-1997), the video production centre of the University of (...)

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Newspaper article.

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