Reading Response 8 by Hayes Owens

Summary: “Digital” by Tara McPherson is about the origins of the very word “digital” and its evolution into what we know it as today. McPherson also explores the relationship of humans who think analogically with digital technology.

Important Points:

  1. “Such evolutionary accounts suggest that digital machines win out because they are more precise, have greater storage capacities, and are better general-purpose machines. These teleological schemes can make it hard to understand the many cultural, economic, and historical forces that are in play during any period of technological change.”

This excerpt shows the same idea of media forms superseding the previous ones that we have been looking at all semester long. McPherson shows the logic for why people think newer technologies are better, but she also explains why it is important not to think this way.

  1. “General histories of computers and much of new media theory tend toward evolutionary or formalist explanations for the emergence of the digital as the dominant computational paradigm but we might also understand the shift as cultural and historical along a number of registers”

This excerpt continues to show this false notion of superseding.  McPherson seems to suggest that people need to look at the context of the media forms and technology before they determine which is the best. A computer may not have been the best media form in a time such as the 1940s or in the Ancient Roman Empire due to the way that culture and lifestyles were set up.

  1. “’Digital’ emerges from and references particular histories, and these histories have consequences. By examining how these histories came to be, we will better understand and, perhaps, shape our present.”

This excerpt is important because McPherson is calling on the readers to recognize the previous media forms and technologies and their histories. By recognizing how they impacted previous cultures, we may recognize how our media forms are currently impacting our culture.


Confusing Points:

  1. “Computers have not always been digital. In the early decades of modern computation from the 1940s through the 1960s (as we moved from mechanical to electrical machines), scientists were developing both analog and digital computers.”

This was confusing to me because it was redundant. The first paragraph already touched on this point very adequately, and I do not understand why McPherson thought it was necessary to restate it so soon and similarly.

  1. “The introduction of digital computer operating systems at midcentury installed an extreme logic of modularity and seriality that ‘black-boxed’ knowledge in a manner quite similar to emerging logics of racial visibility and racism, the convert modes of racial formation described by sociologists Michael Omi and Howard Winant.”

The comparison to racism made this quote confusing because it only detracts from McPherson’s point of black-boxing. It does not seem to complement her point at all and it feels like it was added unnecessarily.


Discussion Question:

How might our view on, or our culture itself change if we looked at the impact on our forms of media the same way we look at how previous media forms impacted previous cultures?