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Digital divide? What digital divide?


There are a number of slogans in regular use on the radio and in the press that sound reasonable enough on the surface but which betray sloppy thinking and a woeful level of ignorance.

Take ‘The Digital Age’ which is rarely far away from an iPod, a mobile phone or an Internet related issue. Apparently Planet Earth was analogue until very recently and then became digital when radios switched from valves to transistors, aircraft switched to jet engines and the CD replaced the LP. Digital is good and analogue is bad, goes the mantra.

This completely ignores the fact that the telegraph and Morse key are digital devices and they predate the PC by a century. In time the telegraph was replaced by the analogue telephone which in turn was replaced by digital telephony and fibre optics but at each stage the change was driven by the quality of the technology rather than a big philosophical question of whether it was digital or analogue.

Benny observed some months ago that the bit quality of DAB radio is being steadily degraded to squeeze more channels into the limited space in each multiplex, which is one of the virtues of digital technology; you can degrade the bit rate of digital without completely killing the signal where analogue radio would disappear in a cloud of static. From a technical standpoint this is a very good thing but if you have any sort of musical appreciation you’ll be forced to make a judgement about the minimum bit rate that is acceptable to you.

As an experiment why not fire up iTunes and look down the list of Internet Radio stations on offer. Glancing at the Jazz section I see that the best bit rate available is 128kbps, then the quality drops down to 64kbps and on to 24kbps which isn’t acceptable for spoken word, let alone music.

Another slogan that winds me up tighter than a coiled spring is the observation that we ‘Live in a busy, modern world’.

What? Really?

Personally I find that my life is full of choices. What do I want to eat, where do I want to go on holiday, what books do I want to read and which music should I listen to but I don’t see that as ‘busy’. Instead I define it as luxury.

Busy is living in the 15th Century as a subsistence farmer with eight children and then putting in a couple of hours helping out to build the local cathedral to keep the Lord of the Manor off your back, all the while hoping you don’t catch the Plague.

Here in the western world we have stacks of choice but technology is our friend rather than the root cause of the problem. Going back 10 or 20 years I hate to think how much time I wasted waiting for places to open, for trains to arrive or hanging around waiting for someone who had been delayed. These days I check my destination on-line and if there’s a snag we all have a mobile phone in our pocket and it’s a sign of the times that Jeremy Clarkson assumed that Richard Hammond was dead when he failed to answer his mobile.

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