Reading Response: “Analog” by Johnathan Stern

In his journal article “Analog,” Johnathan Stern tells the history of the term analog from its beginning use to the end with its current definition as of 2008. He references,

“The term “analog” has come to mean smoothly varying, of a piece with the apparent seamless and inviolable veracity of space and time; like space and time admitting infinite subdivision, and by association with them connoting something authentic and natural, against the artificial, arbitrarily truncated precision of the digital (e.g., vinyl records vs. CDs). This twist in the traditional meaning of “analog” is a linguistic relic of a short-lived and now little-remembered blip in the history of technology” (Robinson 2008, 21). (31).

This gives the modern definition of analog. A significant part of both the definition and Stern’s argument are that the word had changed culturally snd as an idea as well as in physical terms. He starts by explaining the two major problems he sees with Robinson’s definition. First, an analog is a “specific technical process” and the example he gives is that a violin is not an analog but a synthesizer (32). The second problem he denotes in his writing is that the entire world cannot be “analog.” Things in the world can be but the world in its entirety cannot be (32). He does this to say that everything “not-digital” can’t be an analog.

He then goes on to differentiate between things like how analogs are used in the physical realms of chemistry and biology as compared to computer science or engineering. He references two people in explaining the difference in looking at it. One being that an analog is a thing in the world for a computer to put out and the other being how a computer puts out signals for another computer to complete (34).

He ends his argument saying that it is pretty much impossible for an analog (referencing it as the analog) to both both a noun and an adverb (?) (instead of the analog of) (38). He uses case studies to explain the difference using works from scholars such as Kittler with his explanation of sheet music and the phonograph (38).

Questions:

  1. What does Sterne say is the difference between an analog and a “not-digital” analog? (37).
  2. Which case study in the reading helped you to comprehend the reading and understanding of analog the most?
  3. Do you agree with Sterns argument? Why?
  4. How can the concept of analogs be used in our projects when thinking about digital technology and not-digital methods (like map making)?

One Reply to “Reading Response: “Analog” by Johnathan Stern”

  1. I think Stern does make a strong argument, specifically that it cannot be a noun and an adverb. Tying in the linguistic history as well as the shifting cultural ideas allowed readers to better understand his argument. I think this is a really difficult concept to grasp because it is asking readers to think of a concept that they understand to be digital, and then take them through its history where it changed formats. Despite the difficulty, Stern does do a good job of grounding his argument in case studies rather than just technical jargon.

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