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Re: <nettime> Digital Humanities Manifesto
Flick Harrison on Thu, 19 Feb 2009 21:12:17 +0100 (CET)


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Re: <nettime> Digital Humanities Manifesto


Howdy everyone, I'm enjoying this list!  I just joined it a few weeks  
ago, and lurk-time is over.  I've been reading my Emily Postnews and I  
think I'm ready to contribute.

I can understand the temptation to reduce "digital" to "numbers."

But I think it borders on tautology to define digital as "computable  
numbers... computable only by a computer."  Defining a computer as "a  
hardware machine running software by which these numbers can be  
processed etc" seems to confirm this.

As a filmmaker, I like to draw the line between analogue vs digital at  
the binary code. And binary code is only "numbers" if you choose to  
call it that.  A 1/0 switch is also an on/off switch.  You could also  
call it an a/b switch. (Maybe I'm missing some basic computer tech -  
are there non-binary computers?)

"Digital" is the smooth information curve converted to binary code.  I  
agree that film frames are not digital for all the reasons mentioned.   
The reason the digital system works is the yes/no nature of its basic  
information method.  It's not about units or numbers; it's about on/off.

George Lucas' editdroid system, for instance, used non-linear edit  
methods back in the 1980's, but the information remained analogue  
(waveform-based) videotape.  There was a digital element in the  
sequencing / referencing of bits of analogue tape, but the video  
remained analogue.  We could call this an analogue / digital system.

Likewise with written text.  Yes, you can rearrange the letters in the  
bible to write "War and Peace."  You can also rearrange the bricks in  
the White House to create the Sistine Chapel.  Is the White House,  
therefore, digital?  That's nonsense.  Maybe there's a good word that  
connects "digital" to "discrete-unit systems," but "digital" shouldn't  
include both.

Binary code written on paper is not digital, even though it can be  
reproduced 1:1, because it's simply a picture of binary code, not  
actual binary activity.  This is not a pipe, eh?  A lightswitch, on  
the other hand (to borrow McLuhan), is a digital system - the binary  
switch gives light if it's "yes," or darkness if it's "no."  The on/ 
off is as much a "state" as a "number."

The original loom-punch-code systems ARE binary, therefore digital,  
because they read yes-or-no information in the form of punched holes,  
and their behaviour is governed by it in a mechanical way.  And a  
telegraph could be digital, since it is on-off, and the variations of  
length in on-off activity could really be counted as sequences of on- 
off (i.e. a long beep is really 2 short beeps with no gaps; a long  
pause between words is really three short silences without beeps in  
between, whereas a shorter gap between letters is two short silences.   
In the context of morse code, these beeps and silences can be "read"  
grammatically as multiple types of discrete signals but they are in  
fact a simple on-off code).  Radio and telephony, which came later,  
actually DOWNGRADED (ha ha) to analog from the binary telegraph, when  
they turned the beeps and silences into waveforms, thus introducing  
gradual interference (as opposed to the all-or-nothing interference of  
digital systems with their error-checking protocols).

-Flick Harrison

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