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Why is it Called "Analog" Media?

By Dillon Wallace

Your analog media is degrading over time, which is why digitization is the best – and really the only – way to future-proof your old photos and videotapes. To keep those precious memories alive!

But what exactly is analog media? What does the term “analog” actually mean? Let’s break it down.

Defining analog

Analog is the opposite of digital, but what makes a device “analog?” Well, for starters, it’s typically a combination of machines and media that can together measure, record, or broadcast continuous information – via voltage, resistance, rotation, or pressure. Analog is essentially the continuously variable changes in a physical property, which in theory could be infinite.

Umm … what?

Let’s cut through the tech-speak for a second and break it down into more common terminology. Analog is any technology, such as vinyl records, transmitter radios, or clocks with hands and faces that doesn’t break down into binary code – a.k.a. digital code. It’s a device that has an output similar to its input – in most cases voltage, pressure, rotation, or resistance.

Origin of analog

Analog or analogue stems from the Greek terms ana which means “up to” and logos, meaning “among other things (ratio/proportion).” The term was first used in the early 19th century as a noun but didn’t gain public notoriety until around the mid-1940s when it became synonymous with computer language as an adjective to describe a type of signal that is continuous in amplitude.

Introduction of digital

For a long time, analog was the state-of-the-art technology used in loads of things, including but not limited to: VCRs, tape players, record players, radios, clocks, and cameras. All of these devices (at least in their early forms) recorded data linearly from one point to another. Analog devices physically read/scanned data off the media it communicated with to relay connection/playback.

Digital, on the other hand, is a series of calculations using ones and zeros – binary code. You know, like The Matrix, minus trench-coat wearing and bullet-dodging program saviors. It’s what comprises most of today’s technology, including but not limited to: hard drives, DVD/CD disk recorders, smartphones, computers and more.

So which format is better?

It’s an age-old debate that typically leaves people unhappy with the answer. Why? Because there isn’t an exact right or wrong response.

You see, since analog records the physical media in real-time – it’s technically the better quality when it comes to things like audio. It’s recording the actual soundwaves as they happen without having to translate the information digitally into an audio signal using a “sampling or bit rate.” When it comes to video or image quality, the argument can be a bit more complicated between film enthusiasts and the latest digital camera lovers. Some opt to say that a medium or large format film unit can deliver or exceed the same resolution as the latest digital cameras while others say not so much.

But where digital wins part of the “which is better” argument is in its convenience and holistic connectivity. Notice how physical reels of film don’t have to be ported to movie theaters anymore? How watches don’t have to be wound or tapes rewound? It’s because almost every piece of technology we use today has gone digital. Most theaters are all digital, which saves time, effort and ultimately money. Home movies aren’t played, they’re streamed. And today’s watches … well, they’re basically little computers on our wrists.

Plus, there’s the conversion process. With analog, you have to take the files and convert them to digital, whereas, digital components talk the same binary language to each other to make the whole process more streamlined and ultimately more convenient.

So, the next time someone asks you which is better – analog or digital? You’re going to have to ask them to clarify because it’s not that black and white of an answer.

What’s your favorite analog media? If you love your analog memories, consider digitizing them today because eventually, they’ll go from analog to so long.

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