The digital revolution

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What is the digital revolution? The digital revolution is an ongoing process of social, political, and economic change brought about by digital technology, such as computers and the Internet. The digital revolution became a significant factor in the 1980s, as computers and other digital devices became popular and as the Internet opened global communications.
The term digital revolution was probably coined as a parallel to the term industrial revolution, and in that sense it promises to bring about a similar level of social and economic change. The digital revolution is creating an Information Society, in which owning, generating, distributing, and manipulating information becomes a significant economic and cultural activity.
The digital revolution is ongoing. Every day new digital innovations challenge the status quo and require societies to make adjustments to traditions, lifestyles, and legislation.
What technologies are fueling the digital revolution? The digital revolution revolves around a constellation of technologies, including digital electronics, computers, communications networks, the Web, and digitization. Before you learn about these technologies in greater detail later in the book, the following overview explains the big picture.
What’s the significance of digital electronics? Digital electronics use electronic circuits to represent data. In the 1940s and 1950s, engineers began to develop digital electronic devices and refine the electronic components used to build them. Transistors and then integrated circuits, which we call computer chips, were key factors in making electronic devices increasingly smaller and less expensive.
Consumers first became acquainted with digital electronics through digital watches that appeared in 1972, and then with handheld electronic calculators popularized by Texas Instruments in 1973. Digital technologies use electronic circuits to represent and process data in bits and bytes, which is based on the binary number system. Today, digital electronic devices include computers, portable media players such as iPods, digital cameras and camcorders, cell phones, radios and televisions, GPSs (global positioning systems), DVD and CD players, e-book readers, digital voice recorders, and handheld gaming consoles. Even cars and appliances, such as microwave ovens, refrigerators, and washing machines, include digital electronics for control, monitoring, and fault diagnosis.
What caused the sudden upswing in computer ownership?

The second phase of the digital revolution materialized when the Internet was opened to public use. The Internet is a global computer network originally developed as a military project, then handed over to the National Science Foundation for research and academic use. When commercial Internet use was first allowed in 1995, companies such as AOL and CompuServe began to offer Internet access and e-mail to a quickly growing list of subscribers. E-mail, a form of electronic communication, was an application for the masses and finally a reason to buy a computer and join the digital revolution. In addition to e-mail, the Internet offers many ways for people to communicate and interact, including bulletin boards, chat groups, blogs, and online social networks.


Binary numbers, bits and bytes

A rudimentary knowledge of how binary numbers work is required in order to understand the mechanism of digital audio. A good way to start is with decimal numbers, which are much more familiar to most of us. Each "place" of a decimal number is filled by a digit. Our decimal system is called base-10, meaning that each digit can express 10 values, ranging from zero to nine. To express a quantity greater than 9, we need an additional digit or digits (we are ignoring decimals for the time being). Each place of a base-10 number represents a power of 10 (with 100=1), so 1's, 10's, 100's, etc.

Binary numbers developed as a symbolic representation of computer circuits, which can be thought of as a series of switches that are either on or off. It seemed logical to use our first two familiar symbols, 0 and 1 to represent these two states (you might think 0=off and 1=on, but in some cases, you would be wrong). A single-place binary number is called a bit, which is short for "Binary digIT." Binary numbers are base-2, with each place representing the powers of two (as opposed to ten in our decimal system). The places for a binary number from right to left are 1's, 2's, 4's, 8's, 16's, 32's, etc. or 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, etc. which add up cumulatively if there is a '1' in that particular place. The important point to understand is that the binary number system allows digital devices to represent virtually any number simply by using 0s and 1s.

powers of 2





equivalent decimal values





sample 4-bit binary number





how to solve

8 +

0 +

2 +

1 =

11 (decimal)

Below is a chart of some equivalent decimal and binary values:

0 = 0

2 = 10

4 = 100

6 = 110

8 = 1000

10 = 1010

12 = 1100

14 = 1110

1 = 1

3 = 11

5 = 101

7 = 111

9 = 1001

11 = 1011

13 = 1101

15 = 1111

Bits and Bytes

Computers use a standardized number of bits in most circuits. These are usually 8-bit values or multiples of 8-bit values. These 8-bit groups are called bytes. CD audio uses two bytes or 16 bits to encode music. By finding the power of 2 for the number of bits being used, you can find the maximum number of values available, as indicated in the chart below.

word size

power of 2

# of values

8-bit (1 byte)



16-bit (2 bytes)



24-bit (3 bytes)



32-bit (4 bytes)



When dealing with large numbers of bytes, the abbreviations below are used. Notice, however, that a kilobyte is somewhat more than a thousand bytes, etc.



power of 2

# of bytes
























1.1529215 × 1018

How do digital devices represent words and letters?
Character data is composed of letters, symbols, and numerals that are not used in arithmetic operations. Examples of character data include your name, address, and hair color. Just as Morse code uses dashes and dots to represent the letters of the alphabet, a digital computer uses a series of bits to represent letters, characters, and numerals. The left diagram illustrates how a computer can use 0s and 1s to represent the letters and symbols in the text HI!
Digital devices employ several types of codes to represent character data, including ASCII, EBCDIC, and Unicode. ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange, pronounced ASK ee) requires only seven bits for each character. For example, the ASCII code for an uppercase A is 1000001. ASCII provides codes for 128 characters, including uppercase letters, lowercase letters, punctuation symbols, and numerals. A superset of ASCII, called Extended ASCII, uses eight bits to represent each character. For example, Extended ASCII represents the uppercase letter A as 01000001. Using eight bits instead of seven bits allows Extended ASCII to provide codes for 256 characters. The additional Extended ASCII characters include boxes, circles, and other graphical symbols.
Why do ASCII and Extended ASCII provide codes for 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9? While glancing at the table of ASCII codes in Figure 1-26, you might have wondered why the table contains codes for 0, 1, 2, 3, and so on. Aren’t these numbers represented by the binary number system? A computer uses Extended ASCII character codes for 0, 1, 2, 3, etc. to represent numerals that are not used for calculations. For example, you don’t typically use your Social Security number in calculations, so it is considered character data and represented using Extended ASCII. Likewise, the numbers in your street address can be represented by character codes rather than binary numbers.
How can bits be used to store images? Images, such as photos, pictures, line art, and graphs, are not small, discrete objects like numbers or the letters of the alphabet. To work with images, they must be digitized. Images can be digitized by treating them as a series of colored dots. Each dot is assigned a binary number according to its color. For example, a green dot might be represented by 0010 and a red dot by 1100. A digital image is simply a list of color numbers for all the dots it contains.
How can bits be used to store sound? Sound, such as music and speech, is characterized by the properties of a sound wave. You can create a comparable wave by etching it onto a vinyl platter— essentially how records were made in the days of jukeboxes and record players. You can also represent that sound wave digitally by sampling it at various points, and then converting those points into digital numbers. The more samples you take, the closer your points come to approximating the full wave pattern. This process of sampling is how digital recordings are made.
What is convergence? Your cell phone has a camera. Your clock has a radio. Your thermometer also reports the humidity. Your PDA plays digital music. All these are examples of technological convergence, a process by which several technologies with distinct functionalities evolve to form a single product.
Convergence is currently working its magic on cell phones, PDAs, computers, portable music players, digital cameras, GPSs, and e-book readers. These devices are gradually acquiring overlapping features and seem to be headed toward becoming a single device.
How does digital technology affect intellectual property? Intellectual property refers to the ownership of certain types of information, ideas, or representations. It includes patented, trademarked, and copyrighted material, such as music, photos, software, books, and films. In the past, such works were difficult and expensive to copy.
Digital technology has made it easy to produce copies with no loss in quality from the original. Pirating—illegal copying and distribution of copyrighted material—is simple and inexpensive. It has caused significant revenue loss for software publishers, recording studios, and film producers. The fight against piracy takes many forms, from passing strict anti-piracy laws, to scrambling, encryption, and digital rights management schemes that physically prevent copying.
How does digital technology affect freedom and democracy? Digital technologies and communications networks make it easy to cross cultural and geographic boundaries.

Has digital technology changed the way we view privacy? Citizens of free societies have an expectation of privacy. Intellectual property refers to the ownership of certain types of information, ideas or representation.

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