Webopedia on Google+Webopedia on TwitterWebopedia on FacebookTech Bytes Blog
Main » TERM » D »

digital

(adj.) Describes any system based on discontinuous data or events. Computers are digital machines because at their most basic level they can distinguish between just two values, 0 and 1, or off and on. There is no simple way to represent all the values in between, such as 0.25. All data that a computer processes must be encoded digitally, as a series of zeroes and ones.

The opposite of digital is analog. A typical analog device is a clock in which the hands move continuously around the face. Such a clock is capable of indicating every possible time of day. In contrast, a digital clock is capable of representing only a finite number of times (every tenth of a second, for example).

In general, humans experience the world analogically. Vision, for example, is an analog experience because we perceive infinitely smooth gradations of shapes and colors. Most analog events, however, can be simulated digitally. Photographs in newspapers, for instance, consist of an array of dots that are either black or white. From afar, the viewer does not see the dots (the digital form), but only lines and shading, which appear to be continuous. Although digital representations are approximations of analog events, they are useful because they are relatively easy to store and manipulate electronically. The trick is in converting from analog to digital, and back again.

This is the principle behind compact discs (CDs). The music itself exists in an analog form, as waves in the air, but these sounds are then translated into a digital form that is encoded onto the disk. When you play a compact disc, the CD player reads the digital data, translates it back into its original analog form, and sends it to the amplifier and eventually the speakers.

Internally, computers are digital because they consist of discrete units called bits that are either on or off. But by combining many bits in complex ways, computers simulate analog events. In one sense, this is what computer science is all about.

Also see quantum computing.

 

 







TECH RESOURCES FROM OUR PARTNERS
DID YOU KNOW?
Keeping Data Secure Is Tougher than Ever

If hackers get their hands on your company's data, they can wreak havoc on customer relationships and cause tremendous damage to your brand and... Read More »

Windows XP: Move Along, There's Nothing to See Here

After more than 12 years of holding the title of most popular operating system in the world, Windows XP is taking center stage for its final... Read More »

Report: The Role of Big Data in the Marketing Industry

According to a new study from Infogroup Targeting Solutions, we can expect to see companies spend heavily on big data marketing initiatives in... Read More »

QUICK REFERENCE
Flash Data Storage Vendor Trends

Although it is almost impossible to keep up with the pace of ongoing product releases, here are three recent highlights in the flash data storage... Read More »

15 Important Big Data Facts for IT Professionals

Keeping track of big data trends, research and statistics gives IT professionals  a solid foundation to plan big data projects. Here are 15... Read More »

Enterprise Storage Vendors

There's a number of vendors that sell enterprise storage hardware or offer cloud-based enterprise storage. View Webopedia's Enterprise storage... Read More »