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Being Digital

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Being Digital
Being Digital's front cover
AuthorNicholas Negroponte
CountryUnited States
PublisherAlfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Publication date
Media typePrint

Being Digital[1] is a non-fiction book about digital technologies and their possible future by technology author Nicholas Negroponte. It was originally published in January 1995 by Alfred A. Knopf.

Being Digital provides a general history of several digital media technologies, many that Negroponte himself was directly involved in developing. Negroponte analyzes the advantages and disadvantages of the technologies (such as his belief that high-definition television wastes broadcasting power), and tries to predict how the technologies will evolve. Negroponte presents a strong belief that humanity is inevitably headed towards a future where everything that can will be digitalized (be it newspapers, entertainment, or sex). This leads Negroponte to a quote repeated often in promoting and explaining the book's material, that the book is made of "unwieldy atoms" that will probably be replaced by a digital copy by the time anyone reads it. Several e-books exist of Being Digital [2] making the quote rather prophetic.

Being Digital also introduced the "Daily Me" concept of a virtual daily newspaper customized for an individual's tastes. This prediction has also come to pass with the advent of web feeds and personal web portals.

Bits and atoms

Negroponte discusses the differences between bits and atoms. Atoms make up physical tangible objects such as CDs, books and letters. Digital information, on the other hand, is made up of bits, the smallest unit of information on a computer. He believes that all forms of information that are now made of atoms (books, CDs, etc.) will eventually be made into bits.

"Negroponte Switch"

In the 1980s Negroponte had originated an idea that came to be known as the "Negroponte Switch". He suggested that due to accidents of engineering history we had ended with static devices such as televisions receiving their content via signals travelling over the airways, while devices that should have been mobile and personal, such as telephones, were receiving their content over static cables. It was his idea that a better use of available communication resources would result if information such as phone calls going through cables was to go through the air, and information now going through the air, such as television signals, was to be delivered over cables. Negroponte called this "trading places," but his co-presenter George Gilder at an event organized by Northern Telecom called it the "Negroponte Switch" and the name stuck.[3]

By the late 1980s the idea had entered common usage.[4] The idea was not coined in his book Being Digital, but the book did explain the idea and its social history.

Technological interface

Negroponte writes about the inadequacy of the interfaces that are currently used to interact with computers. He believes that the mouse is a mediocre interface for point and click, and inadequate for drawing. He instead prefers the interfaces of touch-screen technology and voice recognition software. His prediction that touch-screen technology would become a dominant interface has been proven correct by the rise in popularity of smartphones, tablets and an increasing number of ultrabooks.

See also


  1. ^ Being Digital, 1995. ISBN 0-679-43919-6
  2. ^ Being Digital e-book by Cyberdock, 2005. (Incomplete)
  3. ^ Speaking at a Northern Telecom meeting in the mid-80s with George Gilder. Negroponte called it "trading places" Gilder called it "The Negroponte Switch". From Being Digital, 1995, Negroponte, N. ISBN 0-340-64930-5 p 24.
  4. ^ The New Rule of the Wireless was first published in Forbes ASAP, March 29, 1993. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 1997-05-06. Retrieved 2016-10-30.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
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