With regard to note-taking is it correct to call handwriting on paper the "analog" counterpart to digital "typing" on a computer?

  • Only with regard to the formation of the letters. One winds up with a digital representation of letters in either case; but the letters are formed by an analog process in handwriting, and a digital process on a keyboard. – John Lawler May 14 '14 at 16:37
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    I think my handwriting comes in a third category. – Edwin Ashworth May 14 '14 at 16:46
  • Typewriting with an old-fashioned (analog) typewriter = not digital. – Simon Woodside May 14 '14 at 17:18
  • @EdwinAshworth Artistic? – WS2 May 14 '14 at 17:35
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    Surely my fingerpainted notes are more purely digital than those recorded with any electronic device. :) – choster May 14 '14 at 18:46

When contrasting analog to digital, analog means

of a system of measurement in which a continuously varying value, as sound, temperature, etc., corresponds proportionally to another value, esp. a voltage

Digital means

designating or of data, images, sounds, etc. that are stored, transmitted, manipulated, or reproduced by a process using groups of electronic bits represented as 1 or 0

While a digital systems can use numerical systems other than base 2 (which uses 1 and 0), the critical factor is that the values are whole and discrete. A discrete piece of data cannot be 0.7 in a digital system. An analog system is continuous, so a discrete piece of data can be 0.6943218.

Naturally sounds are generally described as analog, that is there is theoretically an infinite number of steps between two volumes or pitches. Digitally occurring (or recorded) sounds have discrete steps because they are recorded and reproduced by using a collection of discrete pieces of data that are either on or off, there or not there. Sophisticated digital systems can make these discrete pieces very small, giving very precise variations between to value points, but there is always a discrete step which cannot be cut in half.

Similarly, a digital watch has discrete time values that do not show the variations between the smallest units. An analog watch has a continuous dial that theoretically can show values in between minutes or seconds or tenths of seconds. In practice, many so-called analog watches are limited in their ability to show in-between values by the escape wheel in the mechanism.

How does this relate to writing? In a sense, a fixed alphabet is comparable to a digital system. There are fixed representations for a discrete number of values. There is no value in between a and b. This is true whether it is handwritten, crafted on a typewriter or transmitted by a word processor. There is no truly analog writing.

It could be argued that handwriting gives you some continuous control over size, spacing, embellishment of the letters, but the analog/digital divide generally focuses on the key values of the system, not the incidental qualities that do not reflect the actual sense of the system.

If you were discussing calligraphy (as opposed to writing), there would be a valid basis to say that hand drawn calligraphy could be called analog, since the variation of the key element, appearance, is continuous and infinitely variable, while stencilled or computer generated images would be digital, since the variability is limited to the precision of the steps in crafting or imaging.

  • You omit the fact that "digital" originates from "digit" -- finger. "Digital" basically refers to counting on your fingers, and any activity you undertake with your finger is "digital". – Hot Licks Feb 8 '15 at 19:44
  • @HotLicks True, true. And fingers are the classic base 10 (unless you want to do it one handed, then base 5). And there is no measurement in between fingers. It is two fingers or three, not 2.141679843. Integers rule! – bib Feb 19 '15 at 2:38
  • I once proposed (letter to the editor of Datamation back ca 1973) that all children should have their small fingers and toes amputated at birth, so they would learn how to count in octal or hexadecimal. – Hot Licks Feb 19 '15 at 2:46
  • @HotLicks A modest proposal. – bib Feb 19 '15 at 11:56
  • Exactly what my cubemate said! – Hot Licks Feb 19 '15 at 12:13

The act of putting something on a device is not digital. The device has digital functions. You could say paper vs. device but that is a bit odd.

I would stick with typed sense anyone in today's world would infer that it is being typed on a digital device. A good antonym for typed is penned. So I would go with:

pen vs. type


The closest I can come up with here would be manual, where typing would be considered digital. My method of thinking here is along the lines of how typing is performed with the fingers (digits) whereas writing is performed with the entire hand (man-).

You could, indeed, draw individual graphemes using ink on your finger, but to draw more than one grapheme would require movement of the entire hand.


No. In analog vs. digital, the latter refers to electronic devices and specifically computers. Handwriting can be done on a variety of digital devices such as touchscreens & tablets. Typing can be done on analog devices such as, well, typewriters.

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    Of the answers I see here, this is the only correct one. – Greg Lee Feb 8 '15 at 18:00
  • Thanks @GregLee. The problem is that there are other meanings of analog and digital. But the one that governs here is analog vs. digital devices, which means the difference between computerized (numerical, binary) and electrical or electronic (without any digital chips, transistors). – Simon Woodside Feb 9 '15 at 20:38
  • So you're saying that an abacus is not digital? – Hot Licks Feb 9 '15 at 20:42
  • Although apparently I got a down vote for not being old fashioned enough... – Simon Woodside Feb 9 '15 at 20:43
  • @HotLicks I'm not sure if you're actually interested in a constructive discussion here. You downvoted my answer which means you disagree with me. Can you provide a constructive reason? I have stated the parameters of my definition above. I am aware that there are other definitions of "digital" and "analog", but when talking about computers the one I have used is dominant. – Simon Woodside Feb 10 '15 at 6:38

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