Another assigned blog post for my communications course. This time, the assignment was to take an analog concept and describe how it has become digitized. I took this to a radical extreme. Judge for yourself.
“On Digitized Time.”
Dictionary.com defines “analog” as something “of or pertaining to a mechanism that represents data by measurement of a continuous physical variable, as voltage or pressure.” Common examples of these analog mechanisms include paintings, drawings, songs, and even the more obscure experience of human emotions. These things operate in a continuous realm of existence, where infinite intricacies of variation are limited only by the imagination. In my exploration of digitization, I decided to approach the subject without limitation. Perhaps I digress from the prompt, but I must.
I bought a clock today. It is not the first clock I have owned, nor do I imagine that it will be the last. This particular clock is a wall clock to hang in the living room of my apartment. I already have another clock in my room – my alarm clock. My new clock shows time by hands; my alarm clock shows time by numbers. Commonly, these clocks are referred to in opposition: one analog, one digital. It is here that I must break from limitation.
Consider the concept of “time.” Time is a mechanism of existence that is represented by continuous physical variables: matter manifested as rocks, plants, animals, and the unique category of humanity. In this way, time is in itself an analog mechanism. Time exists continually. We cannot stop, replay, or skip it. We can, however, digitize its passing.
There exists naturally a representation of this passage in the rotation and orbit of the the earth around the sun. To us, the sun goes up; the sun goes down. We experience day and night by this process and can in effect understand our interaction with time in two discrete units. With the first division made in nature, the process of humanity’s digitization of time had begun – and was based on rotation.
By seeing time as a rotation, it is not hard to separate the day into recurring samples. We see the sun rise, apex, and set. Though the intervals between each of these events changes by season, the process itself is seen day in and day out. Humanity, in its infinite wisdom, sought to standardize this process. Since the days are based on rotation, the method of representing the passing of days is logically also based on rotation. By representing time as a circle, it is easy to quantize parts of the day in equal and symmetrical parts. One division exists horizontally: day and night. Another division exists vertically: apex and nadir. From there, we ended up with 12 points altogether to represent points of time during the day.
This plotted circle is then converted into a clock, a device most people would think of as analog. Gears drive hands across the face of the plot to represent current time in relation to the earth’s rotation. As the gears turn their teeth, represented time ticks out at distinct sample rates. This representation is commonly quantized by hour, minute, and second. In this way, the plotted circle can be converted to what is commonly known as the digital format. By abandoning the manifestation of rotation, time can be simply represented as numbers.
These numbers are a high-fidelity code. Though the concept of time goes much beyond a simple rotation, for our purposes here on earth we could hardly have anything more practical. Clocks give structure to the day, and though the most digitized format of time abandons the physical representation of rotation, the way that the hours reset on a 12 or 24 hour basis keeps the idea intact. While a more accurate representation of time might be based in a linear fashion, the way we experience it through our days makes it practical to keep this cyclical view.
There is also little value to be gained from digitizing this representation further. The current standard units of time deal fairly accurately with our ability to experience moments, seconds being the smallest of them. In cases of competition, however, this digitization has become of great importance. With smaller units we may judge better who finished first in a race, for example. Oddly, the more we digitize time, the more we strive for perfection – and all the while the ultimate perfection of time already exists in an analog stream outside of the ticking world.
Final note: I will be visiting my buddy Kyle this weekend in Bloomington for another round of video games, nonsense, homework, and yes – we’ll be getting a handle on this webcomic idea I went and came up with. So uh, wish us luck.
Listening to: Morgonstunden, Promoe