Digital myths

Monk, John (2001). Digital myths. In: 6th International Conference of the International Society for the Study of European Ideas (ISSEI); Twentieth Century European Narratives: Tradition & Innovation, 16-21 Aug 1998, Haifa, Israel.


Much of the early work on information theory was directed towards the study of the transmission of telegraph signals. These theoretical treatments lend themselves to descriptions of signals as digital phenomena they are much less convenient for dealing with descriptions of signals as analogue phenomena. Although attempts were made to accommodate analogue and digital signals in the same theory the results were elaborate, hard to follow and difficult to apply. Thus there remain incompatibilities between the common theoretical treatments of analogue and digital signals and hence difficulties in framing criteria for the comparison of analogue and digital techniques.
In spite of the difficulty of any formalised comparison it is frequently presumed that digital systems offer greater capacity, better quality, better accuracy, versatility, freedom from error and greater realism in the effects they produce. Digital systems have also been strongly supported as candidates for human biological mechanisms and thus by implication are, seen by some, to be natural.
These myths about digital systems have breached the engineers's linguistic closures and have become commonplace. With their promise of perfection, digital systems have become symbols of the modern, the progressive and the revolutionary. Engineers caught up in this tide have come to extoll uncritically particular claimed virtues of going digital so that other options are treated as obsolescent . But through its common usage the word digital is losing its discriminating power and trapped in an image of a controllable world it is becoming a metaphor for modernist aesthetic.

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