Analog Data vs Digital Data

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  • 0:03 Definitions
  • 0:47 Measuring Time
  • 1:44 Making Colors
  • 2:15 Telephone & Sound
  • 3:16 Digital Frequency
  • 4:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Louay Chebib
In this lesson, learn the difference between analog and digital in terms of transferring data. We'll go over some analogies to help illustrate the difference, as well as practical uses such as telephones.


Ever wonder why some things are analog and others are digital? Is one better than the other? What difference does it make?

The word analog means 'is like', and the word digital comes from counting by using your 'digits,' like using your 10 fingers. A thing is said to be analogous if it is like something else, like a picture is an analog of the thing in the picture.

At a practical level, the difference between analog and digital is in how the information/data is measured. Analog data attempts to be continuous and identify every nuance of what is being measured, while digital data uses sampling to encode what is being measured. Another way to consider it is that analog tries to be 'just like' and digital 'encodes' for practical purposes.

Measuring Time

Think of time and how we measure time in units. For normal, everyday purposes we use minutes or seconds as our basic unit. Some clocks have a second hand that jumps from second to second; others move continuously.

If a second hand is moving continuously, it is moving through the all the parts of a second no matter how small. That means that, if you are fast enough, you could see the exact fraction of a second. This clock could be said to be analog since it is like time, always moving through all the fractions of time.

However, if the second hand jumps from second to second, then all you know is what full second is. Does that mean that nothing exists between each second? What about a clock that only shows full minutes? Does that mean that seconds do not exist? Clearly, the seconds and fractions of a second continue to exist even if your clock's not showing them. This kind of clock that jumps and only shows full seconds or minutes is like using digital technology, since it is counting only what is considered important.

Making Colors

Think of colors. Think of some painted by hand and some presented on a screen.

Consider how artists mix paint colors together on their palettes to get just the perfect color. Each color is a mix; somewhere in between many colors. They are not an exact color that can be created by a formula. These colors are analog.

When creating or displaying colors on an electronic screen, every point of color displayed has an exact formula or number that shows its component colors. This is the digital code number of that color.

Telephone & Sound

Traditional telephone systems used analog technologies that required a switching network to establish a connection between two phones. The conversation is then carried over a physical analog circuit, and the sound reaching the microphone causes the voltage on the line to change. The speaker on the receiving side vibrates according to these voltage changes and causes a similar sound to be heard by the other party.

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