2.2 Digital technology
The arithmometer and other mechanical calculators were digital, in the sense that they operated with the digits 0–9. However, the word is mostly used today to refer to calculations carried out by devices that represent numbers internally using only the digits 0 and 1. You can think of this as corresponding to ‘on’ and ‘off’. This two-digit system can represent all numbers, and it is much easier for electronics to deal with.
Moving from mechanical parts to electronics was a major breakthrough. Since their invention, digital devices have become much faster, more reliable, smaller and cheaper than their mechanical predecessors.
However, digital technology is more than just arithmetic. This is because 0s and 1s can be used to represent many types of information.
Activity 3 Types of information
List some non-numerical types of information. To get started, recall the information you have received in the last day or two. What forms did it take?
Your list might include:
- photographs and other images
- graphs and charts
So, digital systems can handle most (possibly all) kinds of information. Once information is represented digitally, it can be processed. This is because activities such as sorting a list of words, searching the internet, using a computer to draw a pie chart, ‘photoshopping’ a snap, writing an email message, editing a sound file, and countless others can all be reduced to mechanical operations with 0s and 1s.
Digital information is also ‘superportable’. It can be sent over much greater distances, and at much greater speed, than is possible with written or printed information.
The next section explores various ways digital thinking tools can extend what you can do.