(this page is part of the Family Guide to Digital Freedom, 2007 edition. Please do read that introduction to know more about the Guide, especially if you mean to comment this page. Thanks)

How much of my life is digital?

What does digital mean?

A digit is a single character in a numbering system. Internally, computers can generate and recognize only two states: presence or absence of a small electric charge. Consequently, they can only represent two digits, 1 or 0, just like humans would be forced to do if they only had one hand with only one finger.

Instructions or information are called digital when they are translated into long series of ones and zeroes, that is the only sequences of digits that a computer can understand, store and process.

If the story ended here, it would be mere technology, and most people could just stop reading this book and forget about the whole thing. The revolutionary and dangerous part of the story is the fact that today practically everything can already be expressed in digital format: music, banking transactions, movies, Census records, computer programs, Social Security numbers, whole books, fingerprints

This has already started to turn your whole life upside down for two reasons. If every service or information is represented in the same way (long sequences of digits, called files) everything can be also stored or transmitted in the same way.

This is a much, much bigger deal than it would seem at first glance. Just a few years ago, preserving or sending a friend exact copies of one’s letters, music in vinyl albums, pictures or “devices to create neat printed reports” was still a real hassle, and a really expensive one too. One would have to photocopy or rewrite all the letters, buy other albums, order reprints of all pictures and buy another typewriter. Vinyl albums couldn’t store pictures and camera films couldn’t store songs.

Today, if both you and your friend own a computer, you just have to copy all your letter files, your music files, your pictures files and the files constituting your word processing program onto one CD: since all those things are digital, they can be stored in the same way. With a fast Internet connection the CD isn’t even needed: since digits are represented with electric charges, they can directly travel along wires or radio channels.

The other reason why digital technology is a real (sometimes dangerous) revolution is, again, that the digits 1 and 0 correspond to presence or absence of a small electric charge. The world is absurdly full of such charges, and they are all exactly equal to each other: a digital “object” can be copied endless times, and each copy will be just as good and as original as the first one. This applies also to false documents, of course.

This is the main reason why this book is so important: since almost everything you do can be digitized and whatever is digital is generated, distributed or controlled through software, it is very dangerous to ignore how software and digital information is created and controlled.

this chapter continues here…