I have been a bit busy and have missed some good blog topics. Maybe I will get back to those after I finish on major project, but I will ease myself back with a quick post about a pet peeve: The word “analog” (used in the context of technology) does not mean “non-computerized” or simply “old technology”.
[Of course, that’s “analogue” to my readers in the UK and you others who have decided to not throw off the yoke of monarchy — I’m talkin’ to you, Canada.]
I realize that this complaint/recommendation borders on Academie Francaise-style attempt to resist the evolution of language. But this one reflects deep and potentially harmful ignorance. Analog computing, data storage, or input/output refers to technologies where values are represented by something that varies continuously in a way that is analogous(!) to the value it is representing. Digital refers to methods where the information is represented by discontinuous markers that arbitrarily represent particular real values. The simplest example is that a readout that has a dial (clock with hands, car speedometer with a turning needle) is analog, because the position of the dial is analogous the the value of time or speed. A readout with digits(!) is digital, since they are arbitrary symbols that represent a particular exact value. An important difference is that if the hands or needle moves a little bit it represents a slightly different value, while if the displayed digits are slightly altered they still mean exactly the same thing. This has several implications, most notably that slight errors in analog systems can accumulate (because they “count”) while slight errors in digital systems disappear (because when a computer is storing something as either a 1 or a 0 — typical digital storage — and it is off by 5%, it is still treated as the original 1 or 0).
Computers can be either analog or digital. Low-tech devices can either be analog or digital. This printed page — whether you are reading it on a screen or you print it out (though I cannot imagine what would possess you to do that) — is digital. That is not because I am writing it on a computer but because these little squiggles have a fixed arbitrary relationship to particular concepts and slight variations on how they appear do not change what they represent. So, a book is digital, as is an old mechanical adding machine. So is a cuneiform table or doing long division with pencil and paper. But something that does not store, process, or display data is neither analog nor digital in this sense. This knowledge should be part of basic literacy in this age, thus my peeve about linguistic drift obscuring the knowledge.