A Guide To Digitization

Digitizing (taking something from an analog format to a digital one) has become commonplace in today’s world. It is easy to snap a picture or scan a document, producing the digital copy. But is important to note that digitizing something doesn’t create an exact duplicate. It creates a representation of that object or text. The person who is doing the digitalization makes decisions about how the “copy” will look and feel. The effect that a digital “copy” has on its viewers is frequently different than that of the original.

Scanning or taking pictures works fairly well as a digitalization tool for textual objects like books or handwritten notes. But depending on how they are cropped, retouched, etc., the digital representation can be deceiving in showing the viewer the real age and condition of the text. It is also possible to use OCR technology to capture the text from a digital image of a textual object. OCR works well in converting an image of a printed text (like a book) into a digital, searchable text file because the text is uniform. But right now, OCR still struggles to convert images of handwritten texts into digital text files because each person’s handwriting is unique.

When you take a picture of a three dimensional object, the representation that is produced is very different from the original object. In the picture, you are viewing the object from one angle, instead of several. It also might be harder to judge the size, weight or texture of the original object from a photo. It is also hard to portray the sound and smell of an object in a digital picture.

More recently, people have been turning to video as a digitalization tool. This works better for three dimensional objects because it provides hundreds of still frames, which when put together, gives a fuller picture of the objects size and shape. Video can also incorporate sound which can be important to understanding the object.

When we work with digital representations instead of the original object, we understand that it is going to be different from the original. The downside is that we may not be able to glean as much information (Ex: How much does it weight? Are the edges fraying? Is it discolored? Does it have stains or cracks?) from the digital “copy” as we could have from the original object. But at the same time, digitalization gives access to that object to a much wider audience. In the past, an object may have only been seen or handled by a small number of people. But though digitization, it can easily be made available to the general public.

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