By Vince M. Ragay
My best-friend Andy Bernal and I have this running debate on whether we humans – and, it follows, the world we live in — are Analog or Digital. Now, you might think that such a point of argument would interest only people who love to deal with non-essentials or who simply have a lot of time to waste on inane matters.
Being photography hobbyists, we share the same passion for this art form that has undergone revolutionary changes since its inception in the 19th century. I admit that our pedantic tussle (among others) puts a strain on our friendship. We actually started our rivalry even before we became friends when he and I both had our eyes on a pretty college classmate of his; but that’s another story.
The discussion, however, involves many of us, more than we may want to admit. Even veteran film cinematographers, such as Baby Cabrales, are only now addressing the issue of whether to go digital or not, whether to embrace modern technology or not and whether to allow the younger generation to dictate upon the older or not. This is not to say that our respected film practitioners have not been open to innovation and the benefits of technology. In fact, we should credit them with the wisdom, courage and patience to have survived and reaped great acclaim in their chosen, albeit volatile, creative field by adopting and evolving with the changing times. (The mere fact that Direk Baby attends a Digital Cinematography Workshop proves his undying love and dedication for his craft.)
So, which is it: analog or digital?
Analog is defined as something having the property of “being parallel or similar to something else.” Technically, it describes “a device or system that represents changing values as continuously variable physical quantities. A typical analog device is a clock in which the hands move continuously around the face. Such a clock is capable of indicating every possible time of day. In contrast, a digital clock is capable of representing only a finite number of times (every tenth of a second, for example). In general, humans experience the world analogically. Vision, for example, is an analog experience because we perceive infinitely smooth gradations of shapes and colors.” Digital, on the other hand, describes “any system based on discontinuous data or events. Computers are digital machines because, at their most basic level, they can distinguish between just two values, 0 and 1, or off and on. There is no simple way to represent all the values in between, such as 0.25. All data that a computer processes must be encoded digitally, as a series of zeroes and ones.” (Quoted from www.isp.webopedia.com)
That should settle the matter in favor of analog. However, the question goes beyond the technical level. Scientists propose that life proceeds from simplicity to complexity. This somehow parallels our noble calling as beings “created in the image of God” through our development of our capacity to overcome the forces of nature – and the laws of physics. Why do you think we are able to fly in supersonic planes now? Or communicate with someone who lives on the other side of the globe using a cell-phone or a PC? We have, in short, used our intelligence to counteract the Law of Entropy which, it is said, inevitably brings us from a world of order to disorder. Our capacity to grasp or control the complexity of life increases.
The point then is this: if we had remained stuck to the experience of life in its “infinitely smooth gradations of shapes and colors”, that is, the analog world, we would not have learned to appreciate the purity and simplicity of a digital world. The irony, however, rests on the fact that the latter leads us back to a world that is simpler (less complex) yet having more order. Order that is more within our “dominion” or control. So it seems in our growing digital world.
This reminds us of the classic case of how physicists describe the physical world in terms of forces. Before Newton came up with his three laws of motion, he conceived of an ideal world where objects remained in absolute rest or absolute motion. Zero or one. Everything or nothing. Force or no force. From that, he was able to formulate a crude interpretation of how forces and matter behave. Hence, before Newton could describe an apparently analog world, he had to imagine a kind of digital world that does not exist. What we consider as an impossible world actually helps us explain, understand or appreciate the real world more clearly.
Now we know that Newton’s point of view has been superseded by more accurate physical and mathematical measurements. Hence, we have Einstein’s Theory of Relativity which does not necessarily invalidate Newton’s Laws, but explains it within a new and higher paradigm. Whereas Newton was able to explain the motion of objects on an elementary level, he could not explain the behavior of other physical entities like light and atomic particles. Eventually, even Einstein’s ideas would be “completed” further with the newer paradigm of Quantum Mechanics Theory by Maxwell, which tries to explain the behavior of sub-atomic particles and electromagnetic forces.
This discussion leads us to appreciate how we may have looked at the world exclusively as analog that we could not conceive of another real world, not the digital world that exists virtually. But which is really the truth?
As artists, how should we portray life? Or more to the point, what should Baby Cabrales end up using, his analog movie camera which he already has or a digital camera which he has to procure at an exorbitant price? It’s a complex dilemma that hangs not merely on simple financial considerations. It depends upon our discernment of what life is really all about. And since our grasp of life is nowhere near our grasp of science, many remain in between zero and one. They are neither here nor there.
Perhaps, we are neither analog nor digital. Perhaps both are merely crude ways of explaining the real world. Like Newton, Einstein and Maxwell, we have not yet stepped into the world of absolute reality. Or perhaps they have already. Some think we may never get to do so.
For now, we merely approximate in any art form what we see, know and feel. For in the end, life and all its emotional dimensions lie beyond the gamut of science and technology. Just as light behaves in an inexplicable manner, so does life move in mysterious ways. Thus, a movie reflects life not only because light is both a medium and a tool of cinematographic art but more so because physical life as well as spiritual life derive their essence and being from the life-giving nature of Light.
Was it Einstein who said that matter is nothing but frozen light or congealed force? If so, perhaps we are nothing but analog approximations of digitized light, whatever that means. For that may not sound any closer to the truth; but with someone like Einstein who understood light more than most of us saying so, there must be something to it.
May the force be with you? No, YOU are the force. And as Christ would want to have it: YOU are the light of the world.