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PSY 355 Psychology & Media in the Digital Age

This page was last modified on January 24, 2023

Some Terms and Concepts in Media [Outline]
(more detailed pdf version)
Trying to understand contemporary media requires that we know what some important terms and concepts mean. Can you describe in your own words what the following media terms mean?

Analog vs. Digital

AnalogAnalog signals or stimuli vary continuously as time unfolds. Analog data encode whatever stimuli are being recorded so that it preserves the quality of continuous variation across time. Examples: sound waves, light, physical motion, temperature.

The word "analog" used in technology is a shortened version of "analogue" which, in multiple sciences, means that one thing, plant, animal, or other other phenomenon under observation is similar to or like another.


Consider the example of sound which consists of waves in the air of different frequencies (how many waves per second) and amplitudes or sizes (how strong or loud the sound is).

Sound Waves

Since sound has those physical qualities, the standard vinyl record reproduces the sound waves in the form of very tiny grooves. So, as the record spins around at a specific rate (e.g., 33 revolutions per minute), the needle of the record player in those groves moves back and forth in the same pattern as the sound waves and the needle's movement is translated into an analogous electrical wave that is then amplified and played through a sound speaker.

Record player and record surface

: With digital data
the physical properties of the analog signal (a continuously changing stream in time) are transformed into an ordered series of numbers that correspond to those physical properties of the analog signal.

Digitizing a sound wave

The numbers in digital data are usually stored as binary values, i.e., a series of either 0’s or 1’s. For example, as you may have learned in math during high school, the number “24,832” as a 16-bit binary number would be “0110000100000000”. Human minds don’t deal with binary numbers easily, but computers handle them very easily.

Data transmission errors?
Quality of signal can deteriorate over distances and with repeated read/write cycles
Quality of signal does NOT deteriorate over distances or with repeated read/write cycles
Power requirements
Tends to require large amounts of power
Uses very little power
Very accurate
Some error (but often too slight for human senses to notice)


On the weekend of Jan 27-28, 2018 US and worldwide media reported a story that armed forces at secret US military bases were being revealed because of the social network for athletes called Strava. The Huffington Post, the UK's Daily Mail, and other news sources called attention to the possible problem, namely, users of the network connect with their smart phones that have geographical location data and show their daily exercise routine, e.g., running. After all, many American soldiers exercise daily.

Strava used the information from 1 billion exercise reports (with 13 trillion data points) to create a "heat map" of where their users were located across the entire earth and posted it online. Here is an example:

Strava Map
By 10 am on Monday, Jan 29, 2018, the company had removed online access to the data and the maps.

Russian Cellphone Use in Ukraine
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in January 2022, the Ukrainian military has used the location data of the cellphones of Russian troops to locate where they were assembled. With this information, the Ukrainian artillery has shelled and killed many Russian soldiers.

The examples above demonstrate the notion of digitally-generated Metadata.

“Metadata is structured information that describes, explains, locates, or otherwise makes it easier to retrieve, use, or manage an information resource. Metadata is often called “data about data” or “information about information.”” (National Information Standards Organization [NISO], “Understanding metadata,” 2004, p. 1)

Examples in everyday life: table of contents and index in a book, labels on a filing cabinet, headers on a file folder

iP AddressOnline search requests.

All data sent over the web is formatted as tagged or labeled packets of information. Each packet contains, at least, a) the IP (Internet Protocol) address of the destination, (b) a sequence number, (c) a check-sum value to assure that the message wasn’t garbled in transmission, and (d) an originating IP address.

The originating IP address identifies the computer that you are using to send out the request. See for example the IP address of the computer I used to put these notes together in the illustration on the right.

Conclusion: Unless one takes specific steps to shield the identity of the computer on which you are working (e.g., by using a "proxy" server), any recipient of your online exchange can identify where the message is coming from.

[Twitter Icon]Tweets on Twitter® {Wikipedia}

Each "tweet" on Twitter is comprised of

  • Since November 7, 2017, a message of up to 280 characters (previous limit 140 characters). However, “Twitter CEO Elon Musk has confirmed that the micro-blogging platform will increase the tweet character limit from 280 to 4,000” though it hasn't done so yet (Report in December 2022)
  • Over 150 forms of metadata which include "a unique numerical ID attached to each tweet, as well as IDs for all the replies, favorites and retweets that it gets. It also includes a timestamp, a location stamp, the language, the date the account was created, the URL of the author if a website is referenced, the number of followers, etc." (Dworskin, 2014).
  • As Twitter's Developers' website notes, "a Tweet consists of over 100 attributes. Attributes such as who posted, at what time, whether it’s an original Tweet or a Retweet, and an array of first-class objects such as hashtags, mentions, and shared links. For the account that posted, there is a User (or Actor) object with a variety of attributes that provide the user’s Profile and other account metadata. Profiles include a short biographical description, a home location (freeform text), preferred language, display time zone, and an optional web site link." (bold emphasis added)
Twitter metadata

Some Twitter users employ "geotags" which show specifically where the device which sent the Tweet is located. From examining billions of Tweets, it is possible to learn about how people in the world are distributed. For example, here is a map of the United States and Canada which is constructed entirely from geotagged Tweets sent between 2009 and 2013 forward:

Twitter Geomap United States & Canada

Because geotags are also linked with the type of device used to send a Tweet, it is possible to create a map showing where different kinds of mobile digital phones are used. Here is the New York City metropolitan area showing the distribution of Android, iPhone, Blackberry, and other types:

Twitter Use by Mobile Phone Type 

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous

The word synchronous means “at the same time” (syn- = together; chronos = time; thus, together in time).


The word asynchronous means “not together in time” (since the initial letter a- = not).

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Communication


Forms of synchronous (“At the same time”) communications media include

One-to-many communication

·      “Live” television, radio broadcasts

One-to-one communication

·      Telephone

·      Cellphone

·      Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, or other video conferencing

·      Texting (can also be asynchronous as noted below)


Forms of asynchronous (“Not at the same time”) communications media include

One-to-many communication

·      Traditional TV shows, movies, books, newspapers, magazines

·      Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr and many social media sites

·      Blogs, Instagram, Pinterest, Flickr & other photo sharing

·      Email to multiple recipients, listservs, online email discussion groups

One-to-one communication

·      Voice-mail

·      Email

·      Texting: While individuals generally send texts in a conversational synchronous fashion, recipients can decide not to respond immediately. This would make their use of texting asynchronous.

This page was first posted on 2/1/2016