When something that is not originally digital is converted to digital form, that thing has been “digitized”—but what do you call it when something that is digital is converted to analogue or material form? There was a discussion to this effect in my Twitter feed a few months ago, but I don’t recall that we ever came to consensus about a) whether there is a term for this, and if not, b) what that term should be.

Whatever that term is or may be, it’s a term that I keep needing, so I’m hoping to identify it by reopening the discussion here. Without further ado, here are some of the recent digital/analogue crossovers that have inspired my question:

1) Words With Friends: The Board Game.

Seeing a TV commercial for the board game version of an online game (Words with Friends) that ripped off a board game (Scrabble) that was itself based on word puzzles that originated in newspapers (crossword puzzles) pretty much broke my head.

Crossword puzzles, of course, are no strangers to medium-hopping. The crossword puzzle first appeared in newspapers in 1913, then jumped from the newspaper medium to its incarnation as the board game Scrabble in 1948. Scrabble itself has jumped directly into a range of console and online electronic versions; it also became a game show on TV in 1984, and the game show in turn became its own board game in 1987. In other words, the cross-media circulation of crossword puzzle games is not new.

All that said, something still gets me about this board game version of Words With Friends. I think it’s part that—even though everyone knows Words With Friends is a rip-off of Scrabble—Words With Friends still originated (“originated”) as an online game, and online games moving offline is still new and strange compared to offline games moving online. There’s also the part about how the same manufacturer makes both Scrabble and Words With Friends (the board game), as if the two were really that different. Sure, Words With Friends (the board game) comes with a code to redeem for a Words With Friends (the online game) “Ultimate Play Pack”—whatever that is—but it still seems like a lot of smoke and mirrors to pretend that, in its journey to and from an online incarnation, Scrabble is so changed as to justify treating Scrabble and Words With Friends (the board game) as two separate games.


2) Delete: The Eraser.

This is a rubber eraser that says “delete” on it. It genuinely made me laugh out loud, so of course I had to buy one for myself and one to give to a friend (and if there had been more than two “delete” erasers in stock, more than one friend of mine would be receiving one).

Mind you, “delete” is not a new word—and its meaning is not unique to how one gets rid of something digital or electronic. “Delete” dates back to 1600, with an original meaning of “to daub, erase by smudging.” In that sense, “delete” (the eraser) may actually be more accurate than “delete” (the key in the upper-right corner of my laptop keyboard).

“Delete” has generally applied to obliterating text, and held this meaning hundreds of years before text could be digital. Nonetheless, at this point, the association of “delete” with “digital” is strong enough to make the implicit joke of a “delete” eraser possible.


3) MP3: The Vinyl Record.

Over at Instructables.com, Amanda Ghassaei has come up with a way to use 3D printers to make playable records from digital audio files. Why stop at making .mp3 files out of your record collection when you can make a record collection out of your .mp3 files?

Again, it is certainly not a new thing for music to cross between analogue and digital formats, or even for music to exist in both formats simultaneously (in fact, my favorite music distribution format is a vinyl record that comes with a digital download code). But these days, vinyl records and .mp3 (or FLAC, or whatever else) files are made from the same studio tracks; if one is derived from the other, it’s always a digital file that’s been captured from playing a record. The idea that one could make a tangible, playable record of music that has never existed as anything other than a digital file is new, and kind of awesome.

These printable records are not lossless, however—which means that, unlike crossword puzzle games, audio files will change significantly over the course of cycling between analogue and digital formats. I don’t own a 3D printer, but if I did, the first thing I’d do is take a digital audio file, print it as a record, digitize the music that came from playing that record, print that as a record, and repeat this process ad infinitum until the resulting sounds were so abstracted as to be unrecognizable as any version of the original file. Would the resulting sounds be “digital” or “analogue” music? I think the fact that there’s no easy answer to this question is half the reason I want to do it.


4) Current Mood: The Flipchart.

Spotted in a Cambridge, MA art store, this is a paper flipchart system for broadcasting one’s mood to anyone in physical proximity. I think I remember vaguely similar paper systems from the 1980s—modeled on “The Doctor is In/Out” charts, and possibly featuring the cartoon cat Garfield—but the fact that this one specifically says “Current Mood” makes it seem like a riff on online blogs/journals in particular. In my world, “Current Mood” will forever be a Livejournal reference (which, for me personally, dates to late 2000); is anyone aware of “current mood” being used before that?

Also, you have to love that the “emo” smiley face is crying an asterisk.


Whitney Erin Boesel really is far too amused by erasers that say “delete” on them. If you see similar such objects, tell her about them via Twitter: she’s @phenatypical.

Analog vs Digital image from http://www.behance.net/gallery/Analog-vs-Digital/2866745
Words With Friends image from http://www.hasbro.com/games/en_US/shop/details.cfm?R=2AF67016-5056-900B-10AB-B53826132C53:en_US
Delete eraser photo by Whitney Erin Boesel. Used with permission.
Printed record image from http://www.instructables.com/id/3D-Printed-Record/
Current Mood flipchart photo by Whitney Erin Boesel. Used with permission.