Digital and Analog Sea Waves

20 March 1999



These words come out like so many bytes of data.  And I find myself realizing for the first time, again, forgetting, that the spoken word is digital.

When I was a young boy, I became fascinated with radio: the sending and receiving of analog signals.  And I explored this world by study and hands-on building of many transmitters and receivers but in the end, could never really grasp the concepts which allowed the mixing of analog waves into intelligent sound.  Beat frequency oscillators, phase shift, intermediate frequency mixers.  I could never “see” the results of such analog signal mixing in my head.

In college, I was lucky enough to be there when computers were beginning to be wide spread enough that programming was being taught and unlike the analog world, I understood the digital world immediately.  Loops and representations, simulations and models.

Later, I spent years designing simulations and models which provided digital representations of the analog world but in doing so, discovered or realized, the limitation of the digital world.  A digital representation is not a true representation no matter how complete or robust.  100000 defined parameters cannot and will not ever allow the complete representation of our analog world and we live in an analog world.

Out on the sea, in a heavy sea, with waves crashing into each other, large and small, and the resulting “mixed” wave moving on to collide with yet another wave or 1000 waves from all directions, it is this world which is real and like the world I see every time I open my eyes and yet, I am so deficient to understand the complex wave patterns I see before me and now, this morning, I see again how language and thought are digital and failing in their ability to convey, define, represent, the changing seascape.

If I was told once I was told 100 times, that my father was not good at talking or expressing his feelings.  He blamed it on his lack of education and feelings of being inferior to the educated.  Others blamed it on his perpetual depression but I wonder now, if he was also a digital man in an analog world and found words and combinations of words a very poor or impossible method to model the world he knew and the feelings he had.

Digital thoughts.  Do I think digitally?  In small chunks of space and time?  Breaking down complex patterns into parameters, values and then adding and subtracting until a conclusion is reached?

Seascape.  Waves upon the surface of the ocean.  Collisions, oscillations, cancellations.  This is life and yet, I stare and stare and am at a loss how to describe and even worse, predict.

And do all these words, now on paper, convey anything?  Do they model, simulate, the feelings I am feeling and want to transmit across space and time ?  I speak into a microphone attached to a radio transmitter and at least, the sounds of my voice are thrown, in tact, across the distance to another.  Analog signals.  True representations.

Chunk, chunk, chunk go the words on the paper.  Bytes of data, strung together in hopes that the resulting sum will closely match an analog equivalent.  And what is the analog equivalent?  What am I trying to say? 

Discovery.  I am not thinking digitally, in words, but in some misty cloud of the analog seascape world where ideas form, build and crash into other thoughts with the resulting wave again building and crashing into still other thoughts and it is no wonder writing feels so inadequate.

And seeing that sending my thoughts through the analog to digital converter of speech and the written word changes the thought, and leaves it only a shadow of its original power and breadth and wanting again to understand at the base level, the mixing and thrashing of feelings and knowing that it is here, there, that the truth about the world lies.

Words.  Digits.  Models.  Simulations.

Wonder if there was ever a time, before the caveman could speak, if thoughts were conveyed in some true analog way?  Is it now and I too stupid, too digitized, to see and hear?

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