Let your digits do the walking…

“Please write a post,” Karen Brock asked me, “telling our readers about our new digital products.”

PieceWork July/August 1995

In the 1650s, before my time, digital meant “pertaining to fingers.” It came from the Latin digitus. That’s pretty clear: we have enormous stores of publications—magazines and books—that are about doing things with your fingers. In fact, it’s astonishing what humans can do with their fingers. Knit, crochet, tat, embroider, do stumpwork, for pete’s sake. And that’s not even getting into making music on a lute, constructing origami figures, poking people in the eye, etc. Just our fingers and some thread can digitate a whole universe of tangible items. It’s in our nature, it’s in our DNA, it’s in our history.

Pincushion from Weldon's Practical Crochet, Eleventh Series, a PieceWork eBook

By 1938 (also before my time, thank you), "digital” had taken on the meaning of using numerical digits, 0 to 9 and beyond. Of course, humans had been using their fingers to count numbers for millennia, and our fingers were even called digits, but for some reason the English language didn’t correlate digit = number with digit = finger until the year that Walt Disney made Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Adolf Hitler kicked off World War II (no correlation). In 1945 (I was just a baby), the term digital made the leap from simple counting to describing how computers worked—substituting numerical manipulations for common sense. (Do you detect a slight bias against computers? Bear with me.)

PieceWork July/August 2009

I confess: all the factoids above came from Wikipedia. Doesn’t mean they are right, of course, just that I can conjure them up by striking computer keys with my fingers. What an eerie coincidence. In the length of time that took, I could have knitted an egg cozy or worked an admirable buttonhole. Digitally.

But back to Karen’s request. What she was referring to, of course, are the “virtual” publications about digitally made objects that can be “downloaded” onto your computer or other electronic devices digitally: whole decades worth of magazines, electronic version of books first published in the 1800s, no end to the wealth of information you can have at your fingertips. And about “virtual” and “downloaded,” don’t get me started.