Although the distinction between digital and analog was first made in the context of automatic computers, the concepts were quickly broadened to apply to media and communication systems of all kinds. This working paper continues work on both fronts by looking at the historical broadening of the concept of digitality to include non-numerical systems of representation such as those used to encode text and pictures. This conception underlies the ability of computers to deal with things other than numbers, but it has its roots in communications theory, most famously in the work of Claude Shannon.
In parallel with our historical description of the emergence of non-numerical conceptions of digitality we broaden our analytical treatment of digitality to encompass more historical technologies and reading practices: not only adding machines and punched cards, but also musical boxes, weaving systems, movable type, and even alphabets and hand gestures.
This is a draft chapter of a book on “Defining Digitalities.” Comments are highly welcome!