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Technology Goes Digital

As economies have become more complex, technology has become more necessary. Horses and carts were replaced with steam-driven locomotives, which were replaced in turn with internal combustion and jet engines. It was only a matter of time before the passing of information also became mechanized.

Digital technology is primarily the technology of transmitting information electronically in binary form. Represented electronically, binary form is simply a state of being on or off. For instance, suppose that your front porch light, when lit, represents "yes" or "come in." When turned off, it represents "no" or "nobody's home." This is a binary message easily and cheaply transferred between two parties capable of understanding the "code."

If you had a series of, say, eight lamps, and the sequences of lamps being on or off had different meanings, you could code 256 different messages—from "I'm not home" to more complex messages, such as "I'm not home but I should be back within an hour, since I only stepped out to do a few things at the grocer's. So leave a message if you prefer not to wait." Both messages would have to be "coded" with a recognizable pattern of lamps being turned on or off. The code would have to be understandable to both the sender and the recipient of the message, and the code could not be changed without the consent of both parties. These lamp "information systems" could provide a lot of information. For example, increasing the number of lamps to 16, 32, and eventually 64 could generate millions of unique messages. Increase the speed of the message traffic to reflect the speed of the electron (close to the speed of light), and you can understand the excitement surrounding digital technology.

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