A laptop with coding on the screen sits on a desk next to two smartphones, a pair of headphones, an open notebook with writing inside, a pair of keys, and four screws.

What the Hell is a ‘Digital’ Space?!

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I’ll be honest, I never gave the term ‘digital’ much thought. Whenever I hear the word ‘digital’, I think of modern technology such as computers and smartphones. That’s about it. I never pondered much more about it.

That is until I entered Dr. Friends writing for digital spaces course. Last week, we had a class discussion on the term ‘digital’. Let’s just say, I did not expect the conversation to last an hour. I walked out of that class feeling dizzy and my brain chemistry has been permanently altered. The term ‘digital’ goes much deeper than I originally anticipated.

‘Digital’ and its Various Definitions

Over the years, there have been many different interpretations of the term. Douglas Eyman covers several definitions throughout his book Digital Rhetoric: Theory, Method, Practice. Eyman first discusses how ‘digital’ is typically deemed to be synonymous with ‘electronic’. However, throughout the book we learn that ‘digital’ goes far beyond this preconceived notion.

The current definition of ‘digital’ began not long after the first digital computer was conceived. In 1948, Claude Shannon published A Mathematical Theory of Communication. In his book, Shannon theorized “that the fundamental information content of any message could be represented by a stream of 1s and 0s” Basically, something would be considered ‘digital’ if it runs off a binary code. This would include computers, DVD’s, and mobile phone networks. Makes sense to me.

Much later, William Pawlett, university lecturer and writer, notes this difference between analog and digital technologies. According to Pawlett, analog technologies are “…based on the principles of similarity, proportion, and resemblance. Digital technologies, by contrast, operate through coded differences rather than proportion or similarity” Based on this definition, the term ‘digital’ would include Morse code and Braille. Woah.

Just wait until you find out Angela Haas’s interpretation of the term ‘digital’. Haas takes a more historical approach on the definition. Haas writes, Digital also refers to our fingers, our digits, one of the primary ways… All writing is digital: digitalis in Latin, means ‘of or relating to the fingers or toes’ or ‘a coding of information.’” Haas goes on to mention that ancient hieroglyphs would be deemed ‘digital’. Haas definitely threw me for a loop.

What Does it Mean to Write in a ‘Digital’ Space?

If the term ‘digital’ takes on so many interpretations, than what does it mean to write in ‘digital spaces’? When it comes to this course, I’d assume that our ‘digital space’ is the internet. Our blog posts are created for the internet to see. This means that anyone and everyone can access our posts just by making a simple google search. As a result, we learn that writing for the Web is different than writing essays for our professors. There is a readability analysis we must pass before being able to publish our work. Since we are writing blog posts for anyone and everyone (not just our professors), it is our responsibility to create content can be understood across the board.


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