“Digital” by Tara McPhearson is a piece in which she explains her extended definition, so to speak, of ‘digital.’ Throughout this short piece, McPhearson is able to portray fascinating evidence of the shift from analog computers to digital computers. Using historical context as well as other scholars, McPhearson is able to support her claim that studying the digital will reveal culture changes, shifts, etc.


McPhearson first discusses the computer. She points out that computers were first created as analog computers. Like the analog clock, these computers were more stimulants and, “converted the relationships between a problem’s variables into analogous relationships between electrical qualities…” . Unlike digital computers, which are on-off and discrete unit-based and work through a more regimented state, are more modular. The analog computer, however, “represents continuity,” which happens to be how we, as humans, perceive the world. Therefore, McPhearson is pointing out that the analog computers have similar thought processes, so to speak, to humans’ perception processes.


Continuing on, McPhearson goes on to explain and compare the two kinds of computers by suggesting that the digital computers, “win out because they are more precise, have greater storage capacities, and are better general-purpose machines.” Because digital computers are largely dependent on numbers and systems, it is hard to understand the, “cultural, economic, and historical forces that are in play during any period of technological change.” Mcphearson then ties in her argument to encompass digital and cultural studies, that they should be studying the algoithiums and codes, which make up the media itself. Within this context, I believe McPhearson is trying to suggest that within the confines of the codes, their numbers, etc. there is much to be learned about culture from studying the make-up of media as ‘digital’ itself.


This kind of thinking leads into McPhearson’s overall point. She points out, that since analog is not the dominant form of paradigm within contemporary culture and it is the process we ourselves default to, why then did digital dominate? When this question is as the forefront of the conversation, McPhearson provides astounding evidence and cultural back up. Using historical context, McPhearson was able to use other scholars to show that the rise of ‘digital’ happened around World War II and with the rise of genetics. All in all, the research shows that the cultural shift that ultimately lead to the transition to digital was, “intertwined with shifting racial codes.”


Overall, I really liked this piece a lot. McPhearson is straight to the point and there were times when I had to read over a few sentences to fully understand. Perhaps it is because computer stuff goes right over my head, or perhaps it is the fact that her style is very to-the-point and I wished for a bit more explanation. She totally lost be when she was talking about UNIX and I feel that she did not offer a lot of explanation there especially.


I think a point that would be very interesting to discuss would be about “Galarie de Deformite” in conversation with this piece. Because it was originally online, is this book digital? Is it analog?

Also, I have a close friend who is a computer engineer and he codes programs and such. I wonder then, what he might have to add to this? Are coders aware of cultural shifts in the digital setting? Do they learn about the origins, the histories behind their practices?