Defining Digitalities I: What’s Digital about Digits?

Author(s): Haigh, Thomas


Modern discourses emphasizes electronic immateriality as the defining feature of digital technology. The idea that digits might be digital when punched onto cards, or even written on a piece of pa- per, is no longer intuitive. Yet by reconstructing the context in which the categories of digital and analog were first distinguished histori- cally in the 1940s, I argue that the concept of digitality is rooted in the mechanical representation of digits in early computers, which con- temporary observers immediately recognized was shared with earlier technologies such as telephone switching systems, punched cards, and calculating devices. Digitality is not a feature of an object itself, but of the way that object is read (whether by human or by machine) as encoding symbols chosen from a finite set. In conclusion, digitality is constituted through reading practices.
Preferred Citation
Haigh, Thomas: Defining Digitalities I: What’s Digital about Digits?. Siegen: Universität Siegen 2023. DOI:
 author = {Haigh, Thomas},
 title = {Defining Digitalities I: What’s Digital about Digits?},
 year = 2023,
 doi = "\url{}",
 volume = 30,
 issn = {2567–2517},
 address = {Siegen},
 series = {Medien der Kooperation},
 publisher = {Universität Siegen},
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