It is trendy to talk of the “Digital Revolution” as if it must be obvious to everyone. In fact it is obvious in some ways however if you don’t understand the basic concepts it can also be something of a mystery. As Arthur C. Clark famously said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Explaining the magic starts with some very basic definitions.
Digitize? In the most literal sense to digitize something means to turn it into digits or numbers. In a more practical sense it means turning something into the electronic language a computer can understand.
Digital information can be many things including words, numbers, photos, x-rays, sounds, movies or even solid objects. Any object can be digitized by breaking it down into discrete bits of information. For instance, photographs in newspapers consist of an array of dots that are either black or white (a classic digital format). From a distance, the viewer does not see the dots, but only lines and shading, which appear to be continuous. Although digital representations are approximations of analog events, they are extremely useful because they are easy to control electronically.
Once an item is digitized there are three significant things you can do with it. You can store transmit and manipulate or enhance the information electronically. That’s it, that’s the digital revolution. In practical terms a digital x-ray may look like magic but it is just a digital simulation of the same kind of image we have been viewing on film for over a hundred years.