Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

As Reality Fades

You never know where you’ll discover useful insights. This morning, I found one in a novel (crime) by Donald E. Westlake. Never mind which one, they’re all good. This one went like this: “Digital is the difference between life and lifelike.”

For those of you who don’t know the difference—I would judge most of the buyers of new technology—I can’t do better than Westlake. However, I will add this: Digital is the difference between real and realistic. I don’t know if that helps much. If you don’t get it you don’t get it. Or, to put it another way, most people are perfectly happy with something like the real thing, some less than the real thing.

Less than? I guess to make that point I need to go back to ancient history, namely the introduction of music on CDs. CD, if you’ve forgotten, stands for Compact Digital. Instead of music being recorded in some analog fashion, as it was with shellac, vinyl, and even 8-tracks and cassettes, recorded music on CDs was bits, ones and zeros. Again, if you’ve forgotten (or never knew), there was big fuss made by audiophiles at the time. (Audiophile: one desirous of high-quality audio reproduction through the use of expensive audio equipment.) But they had a point: if you could hear the difference, then it (this new digital process) made a difference—a diminished difference.

It’s the same problem some of us have with CGI movies: they just don’t look real. The same is true for digital photography (the cause of quote in Westlake). Not even as real as Matthew Brady’s Civil War photographs. Sounds that aren’t real; sights that aren’t real. Yet, this is what people are buying. By the billions.

This, this ersatz version of reality, is what we’ve become accustomed to. But I have to wonder why no one is asking this question: where is the progress? It’s amazing, to some of us, what most of us are willing to accept—and buy—as better when it clearly isn’t.


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