The Perils of Digitization

  • What can you capture, and not capture, when you digitize something?

Digitization currently is limited to either capturing the appearance of an item (through a scan or photograph), the sound of an image (through an audio file), or a motion picture (through a video file).  You are not able to capture the smell or texture of an item.  And no matter what format you use, the digital image is not an exact reproduction of an item, even when a photograph is scanned or an analog sound recording is digitized.  There are “losses” that may occur depending on the software used, plus the user may manipulate the image or audio file in ways to change it from its original state.

  • Which forms of digitization make the most sense for different types of items?

Texts are the most easily digitized, although you do lose the physical presence of the original object.  Photographs or 2-D objects can be scanned, with the caveat that the new scan is not the same as the original.  Objects that have a particular physical presence–a smell or texture as two examples–are less easily transferred to a digital representation.

  • To what extent does working with digitized representations impact how we understand different kinds of items, and/or our ability to use them for different purposes?

This depends on what kind of study you are making.  If you are analyzing text, you probably aren’t losing much by not having the physical object available to you.  However, if you are analyzing an audio recording, artwork, or photograph, you are losing key elements of the original item if you rely solely on its digital image.

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