Infinite to finite—two worlds collide

The foundation of the Technojungle and computers is to take us from an analog world of the past to a digital unexpected world of the future. However, how do we understand each other if we analog humans don’t speak the same language as digital technologies?

Way back in my high school days, in math class, we had to do a bit of computer programming. My school didn’t have the computer, another high school did. So we were given cards, about 8 inches by 3 inches (20 cm by 8 cm), with small markings the same size as the holes in a punch card. We had to use a dark lead pencil to fill in the correct holes in a stack of these cards. Then we wrapped our little program of cards with a rubber band and off it went to the other school. Usually the result was that the program failed to run. In other words, all I learned from the experience is that one single mistake in the digital world of Technojungle computers can cause failure. If I did the math myself with a paper and pencil, I could probably figure out where I went wrong. The Technojungle computer cards were far more difficult to deal with. I never expected I would have to be perfect in a future world of computers.

I feel as if analog and digital are two worlds that are colliding, and it is my view that when humankind crossed over to using digital technologies, a fundamental change occurred. So let’s begin our safari by looking around to discover why. 

If you look closely, you will notice that there are two very different kinds of technology in the Technojungle—analog and digital. Analog technologies, in so many ways, seem more human-friendly than digital technologies. We need to take some time here to look at the digital world to appreciate the differences between the digital Technojungle and our human world.

There are obstacles in communicating, or interacting with a computer because humans are analog while computers are digital. Can you understand a computer without the information being converted from digital to analog? A computer can’t understand you without a translation from analog to digital. We use keyboards, a mouse, monitors, screens, and various other input and output devices, including our voice and other means to communicate with computers and the Technojungle. Have you experienced how awkward and cumbersome it can be as an analog being  to communicate with a computer or other digital device?

…when humankind crossed over to using digital technologies a fundamental change occurred.

Note: While humans are considered basically analog, aspects of brain function, and the DNA of life, are different. For now, I shall maintain that humans are analog so we can contrast this with the digital Technojungle. It is a complex discussion and exploration of these ideas is beyond the scope of this book. Look for this discussion much further down the Technojungle path—a safari into the future.

Analog is an analogy of the passing of time. Look at the gauges on your car dashboard. A gas gauge that is analog will have a needle pointing to a place on the gauge. As time passes, the needle moves and shows the change continuously. A digital gauge can only tell you sampled increments of time. Similarly, a thermometer shows the continual change of temperature while a digital one gives a number sampled over an amount of time.

Was the Technojungle computer as we know it the first digital technology? I remember clearly reading a book with a drawing explaining that a light switch is a form of digital computer. The drawing showed a light switch, the type on a wall, lines indicating wires, and a lightbulb. The switch can be either on or off. If we assign a 0 to the off position and a 1 for the on position, we have a binary computer. There was an explanation of the binary system of numbers which only uses two numbers, 0 and 1. This is referred to as base 2. The system of numbers humans use, base 10, has numbers from 0 to 9. If many switches are connected together, they can be set in a variety of combinations of off or on, a series of 0s and 1s, that can be used to communicate. A Technojungle computer is simply a massive number of switches that get set in various combinations to form patterns representing our words and numbers and turn pixels in a screen on or off, or represent pitches of sound. 

Whenever I have to think of the binary number system, or a simple computer, I get an image in my mind of that drawing and the accompanying explanation.  It was, of course, overly simplified, however, I would say effective. 

Can you think of any other Technojungle digital technologies besides a computer?

For most of our human history, we have been using analog technology. One way I imagine to understand this is to look at two different clocks, one with hands to represent analog, and a clock with lights that form numbers to represent digital. There is a huge difference between these two clocks and technologies behind them. First, the analog clock, as with all analog technologies can be viewed as infinite. In other words, the hands of the clock can be on any number and at any point between the numbers. Yes, I realize that analog clocks usually tick in increments, but, theoretically, the movement can be continuous and smooth. If you watch an analog clock, it sort of slips to the next gear, so the state is never simply on or off as with a digital switch. Perhaps an electric analog clock is a better example. The digital clock, on the other hand, can only turn lights on or off and that is why we have those strange looking numbers and even letters representing the numbers and letters we are accustomed to. Several lights are arranged in such a way that turning certain ones on will show us a number. Do you prefer to use a digital or an analog clock or watch? 

Left: An analog watch glowing in the dark. Right: A digital clock formed with LED (light emitting diode) light segments.

If you consider all the computers in the world, all connected together, it becomes apparent just how much power is behind what we see in the modern digital Technojungle. However, with all that power, the digital world is limited, in many ways, compared to our analog world. We need to always keep this in mind on our safaris, understand the differences, and appreciate our more human analog world. But how and why is the digital world limited?

What happens when I look at colour or hear sound? From one colour to another, from one musical note to another, I find there are an infinite number of values. Have you ever noticed that from one colour in a rainbow to another, there exists an infinite range of in between colours? The same can be experienced with sound. From one pitch to another, there is every possible pitch in between. Have you ever listened to a trombone player or violin player slide from one note to another? In moving from the first note to the second, the trombone or violin plays every tone in between. How can digital devices represent these colours or sounds? 

Colour and sound are waves. A technical instrument called an oscilloscope can measure and display a wave. An analog wave signal has smooth curves of hills and valleys. A digital wave on an oscilloscope is square and jagged. 

The digital world of the Technojungle is attempting desperately to communicate and interact with us by representing things such as images and sound in a way that seems natural and more human to us. Let’s consider sound for a moment.

Here is a short description of how analog sounds are produced. If you pluck a string on a guitar, the string vibrates as an analog wave. If you press the string down on a fret halfway along the length of the string, you will get a note that is twice the pitch. The number of vibrations per second is called the frequency. It is measured in what are called hertz, or Hz. Another string on the guitar that has a note fitting harmonically with the pitch of the first string will vibrate in sympathy. Thus, a string that is tuned to a note an octave (twice the pitch, or frequency) higher than a particular string will vibrate. The note produced by the analog string is influenced by many other factors, such as the body of the guitar and exactly how the string was plucked to produce the note, along with many more variables. These factors add small nuances to the analog sound.

I play an old 1921 Conn Victor cornet (similar to a trumpet). I buzz my lips into a mouthpiece to make a note. As it turns out, my lips buzz at a frequency of 440 times per second, or 440 Hz, for the note A440 (a note just below the middle of the staff of the treble clef). That is fast. If I play a high A above the staff of music, my lips buzz 880 Hz. If I keep going up to various higher notes, my lips can buzz at over 1000 Hz.

There is one more aspect of sound to understand, amplitude. Amplitude is the loudness. If you look at a wave it has hills and valleys. The higher the hill, the louder the sound; the lower the valley, the softer the sound. So hills and valleys that are close together represent higher frequencies, or Hz. When the hills and valleys as further apart, the Hz is lower.

The most common bands of radio are AM and FM. The A represents amplitude and the F represents frequency. The M stands for modulation.

Now, imagine trying to produce musical notes by a digital Technojungle technologies. I don’t mean recording an instrument making the note. How would a digital device produce a sound that imitates that of the actual guitar string, or my vibrating human lips for that matter and what are the difficulties in doing this? When the guitar string is plucked, uncountable nuances make that analog note. A digital device might make a sound that is similar, but the real guitar is analog and has an infinite number of possible ways in which that note can be influenced by all those nuances, many barely, if not impossible, to consciously detect. Change the temperature in the room, or go into another room with the guitar and it will sound slightly different. The sound appeals to us because it is analog and more human. Can you think of other influences on analog sounds?

What are the differences in digital and analog images? Take a close look at your computer screen. Do you see the pixels? Like tiny lights, they are turned off or on to make an image. If you take a photograph and enlarge it on your screen, you will see that the photograph is actually made up of pixels too. Enlarging a photo can cause it to become pixelated because the pixels get enlarged as well. Pixelation fools your eyes into seeing a somewhat smooth image. Your computer is taking an image that is made up of pixels and shows it to you through a screen that is also made up of pixels. The pixels in various photographs are not always the same sizes. They are measured as how many there are in a linear inch. This is also referred to as resolution. A high resolution photograph with have lots of pixels of information to render more detail.

Original computer screens had 72 dots per inch, or 72 dpi (usually ppi for pixels per inch). This is no longer the case and has become very complicated. The 15 inch (diagonal) screen on my laptop has 1400 pixels across and 900 down for a resolution of 110.96 ppi. On early computer screens, if a photo was enlarged to twice the original size, the pixels in the photo would be seen at 36 dpi while the screen was still at 72 dpi. In this case, one pixel in the image was displayed by two pixels on the computer screen. Going to a size other than 2 times (twice), say 1.5 times, would result in an uneven distribution of image pixels and cause distortion. Can you start to see some of the difficulties involved with the digital Technojungle relating to us humans?  

Next time you want to make an enlarged print of a photo, make sure you have a large file with lots of information in it. You probably won’t be able to take an image downloaded from a Technojungle webpage, print it larger, and expect good results. I have done photography for going on half a century and when photography went digital, I had reservations about the quality. Things have progressed, however, if it were not for convenience, I think people would still prefer to look at analog photos made with film which was used to project the image on paper to make a final photograph.

I have boxes of family photos and the ones done professionally long ago are like beautiful art. Nobody seems to want the photos. They want to scan them and then trash the originals. It is fine to scan originals, but one must ensure a high quality scanner is used. A good scanner can see detail in the darker parts of the photo, called the shadow areas.

There are somethings to keep in mind which we will look at later in our safari. If you scan an image to a digital file and store it on some from of media, the technologies you use will become obsolete. Reading the files on the media will be impossible. An acid-free paper photo will last over a hundred year or more. These are examples of issues we are exploring in the Technojungle.

We used to have professional studio portraits done of family and children. They were very high quality done with very high quality equipment. You would go for the sitting and then go back another time to view proofs. After selecting the ones you liked, you would buy an expensive package of various sized photos. Today people snap a picture using their smartphone and post it on social media.

Analog technologies are full of imperfections. But guess what, so are we humans. Do you find analog technologies are more native to your human world, easier for you to relate to and interface with than the digitally based side of the Technojungle? With the analog guitar, every time the string is plucked, the sound is a little different. It may be plucked with the skin of the finger, the fingernail, or a pick. Each will produce a slightly different sound. The temperature of the instrument and the room, the overall environment, all contribute to making an imperfect, softer, warmer sound with what I often call colour. Colour can be explained as all those extra influences and imperfections that give each note its own distinct sound. This is the analog world we are most comfortable in and a world that the digital Technojungle struggles to represent. 

Since digital switches are either on or off, only a single colour or sound can be represented at any one point in a range. The number of points can be vast, yet it remains that all digital is in steps and is not continuous. This makes it less appealing to us humans and gives the digital Technojungle a cold, hard, sharp, even crisp aspect. Sometimes we are told, usually to be sold something, that this is good and better than an alternative.

A well known TV manufacturer wanting to out-sell another did it by turning up the saturation (brightness and brilliance of the colour). Sales people then told customers that the brighter more colourful image was better. This seems to be a continuing trend. When I look at TV images that are digitally enhanced, I don’t see anything necessarily better than analog TVs of years past. I see gigantic postcard-like color, not a window into a real world. We have been sold the idea that all these bright, crisp, sharp, super colourful, high definition unrealistic, less human images are good. Perhaps they just want to sell us the latest technology. TVs don’t represent the real human world very well. They show us a world of the unreal Technojungle. Did anyone in the past ever think the future would be unreal?

Some people will raise the point that digital technologies are cheaper than analog which can be so expensive to create and maintain. It is hard to determine how true or false that statement might be. Are digital technologies actually cheaper since we end up replacing them more often than analog? Where do all these replaced devices go? 

Book publishing is expensive; however, once produced, a printed book can exist with nearly no further effort or cost. A hundred books can exist on a shelf in our human world. A hundred digital books can be produced for little and copied for next to nothing. They can be stored cheaply, BUT only if they do not have to be available for access by a human or another computer. If so, then they must reside on an electric device that constantly consumes energy. That device, or computer server, in the Technojungle is connected to other computer servers that are all consuming power. Don’t forget that the computer or device that you use to access and read the book also consumes power and you can’t read the book unless your computer is on. So which is actually cheaper, a digital book or an analog book? Would it be true for most of our information? The Technojungle would seem to be quite expensive. Can we expect this will be solved someday in the future? 

A shelf of books contains books that were produced with great care and thought. They carry a quality message that is reliable. With digital Technojungle technologies being so easy to use for creating a message, it would not be fair to compare a shelf of one hundred physical analog books with a digital shelf of digital books. A digital shelf would contain thousands or millions more books and messages. Have you noticed that often the quantity goes up while the quality of the message can go down? The less quality and value a message has, the more it can be considered as simply noise. 

Digital Technojungle technologies attempt to eliminate imperfections. Does that sounds like a good thing? Digital technologies attempt to make our human world and lives perfect. Although we are not perfect now, could the Technojungle make us perfect someday? Does a digital perfect world seem like a very comfortable and appealing place for you to exist? In what ways might it dehumanize you?

As mentioned earlier in this book, all analog technologies contain some imperfections. Prior to being able to play back recorded music digitally, one of the ways we listened to music was by using records. Remember the discussion about 78s and LPs. The LP was made by pressing rough grooves into vinyl and using a needle that vibrated in the grooves to translate the roughness of the grooves into recognizable sounds. There were plenty of imperfections compared to digital forms of recordings. After decades of digital music both young and older people returned back to the vinyl records for that analog sound and feeling.

Do our human brains learn to deal with the imperfections of analog? Do we tune-out the imperfections? That which may be lacking with analog actually engages our brains to imagine and fill-in the missing details. 

I, along with millions of other people, suffer from Tinnitus. This is a constant noise in my head that never stops. My brain thinks the noise is there, but it really isn’t. It is very annoying and extremely bothersome. If I am distracted from focusing on it, I don’t notice it as much and I can carry on with life. It is a matter of tuning it out temporarily.

We used to use an expression, “I’m just going to veg-out in front of the TV.” Veg-out was short for just being a vegetable, or in other words, doing nothing and thinking of nothing (such as whatever was worrisome at the time). But, what happens in our brain when we experience less information such as with a radio drama? Back in my days of collecting jazz records, I used to visit another more senior collector. Here is his explanation. One difference between a dramatic presentation on the television and one done on the radio is the lack of the visual. The missing visual stimulates and engages the mind to fill-in what is lacking. Listening to a radio drama is far more of an active activity than watching the more passive drama on TV. Engaging our mind humanizes us. Not engaging our mind dehumanizes us. 

Is there is a difference in warmth between the digital Technojungle and analog human life? To me, digital seems cold, hard and unfriendly, while analog seems warm, soft, and friendly, but aren’t these three characteristics that we associate with being a good person? The more analog we lose and the more digital we gain in our lives and our human world, the harsher, as in crisp, sharp and perfect, life becomes. 

Our analog world has been on a collision course with the new digital world. Perhaps we have never had a chance to really explore where a world of analog technologies could take us. I think there could be computers, just not the tiny micro computers we have today. Analog computers would probably be larger and bulkier. They would likely not be something that everyone would have in their pocket. But then do we really need so many small computers in our lives? The market, which is people, seems to really want them, so we shall have a little closer look at why later. It seems that the computers of the Technojungle suck away our time and energy, stealing us away from being together where we can touch each other both physically and emotionally. This has certainly been the result from physical distancing and social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic with people longing to get back together. Is the Technojungle serving us humans or are we serving the Technojungle? Are we being better human beings through the digital Technojungle?

As our lives and world become more of a digital Technojungle, as opposed to mechanical analog, they also become less real and less human. We can end up becoming dehumanized and more like the digital devices that are supposed to be making our lives better and hopefully more human. Through the online world we can connect together in so many ways. Is this one aspect that outweighs any drawbacks of the Technojungle?


2 Comments

  1. Key insight: “Engaging our mind humanizes us. Not engaging our mind dehumanizes us. ” I am reminded of Paul’s insight in Romans 12 about renewing our minds and not being conformed to the world. What does it mean to love God with all our mind?

    Like

    • Yes, when we engage our minds, we must pay attention to what we engage our minds with. We are back to stewardship. Interests and passions are great for sparking journeys, explorations, and discoveries, however, they must be edifying and humanizing, rather than dehumanizing. Humans have never had such vast places to understand.

      Liked by 1 person

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