Everything in a Computer Is a Number
No way! What about this subtitle? Yeah, they’re all numbers.
Right now, you’re reading this confused. What does that even mean? How is that even possible?
Well, computers can only store and manipulate numbers. It’s that simple without getting into the technical details.
This sentence. This paragraph. This whole article is stored on Medium’s servers as numbers. Every character you’re seeing, the letters, the numbers, the punctuation, all of it. They’re just numbers.
The year was 1961 when the ASCII encoding system was created. It was used to describe characters as numbers. It didn’t just describe visible characters on the keyboard. Even invisible things have number values. If you’re still using a desktop computer, you’ve probably heard that massive box emit some beeps when you turned it on. Believe it or not, that beep is stored as #7.
The space that separates each word on this line is #32.
The blank space between this line and the one before it is stored as #12.
As more and more people used computers, we needed more ways to express text. ASCII was soon joined by Unicode. Unicode is basically a much much bigger collection of numbers.
Insert Exploding Head Emoji Here
You’re thinking I’m full of 💩.
Speaking of 💩, specifically this exact emoji, yes it is also internally stored, transmitted and managed as a number. It’s the number 128169 to be exact. I want that on a T-shirt.
Just that. Nothing else. Maybe an exclamation mark to go with it. In a speech bubble.
As soon as I wrote that, I thought, hell, I just gave away a million-dollar idea for a novelty item. So, I stopped writing and whipped up a T-Shirt design on Zazzle (this is a referral link) because the Internet is crazy like that. It took all of 15 minutes. I’m no designer. The shirt looks like 128169. Of all things I thought I would create as merch, I never dreamed this would be my first. If I run across you 3 people who buy the shirt, I’ll buy you a beer. We’ll hang out and shoot the 128169.
There you have it. Emojis are basically numbers.
In fact, every single emoji has its own Unicode number. Go ahead, look it up.
Now you know. Life makes more sense now. Your enlightenment is complete. You’re welcome.
Heart-eyes emoji (128525).
I Said Everything and I Mean Everything
When you’re watching a movie on Netflix, what you’re seeing are moving colors on a screen. I’m not here to explain how movies work. (Spoiler alert: It’s called Persistence of Vision)
The colors that make up Squid Game’s Player 456’s green track suit are just numbers. Colors are made of three numbers. The three numbers represent how Red, Green or Blue each dot on the screen needs to look.
This color information is streamed from Netflix’s servers to your device as a bunch of numbers, surrounded by even more numbers. These packets of numbers are interpreted as the picture you see.
The sound of Player 456 screaming in agony? Yes, all streamed to you as numbers. Numbers that represent the sound’s wave form. High numbers mean higher frequency. Low numbers mean more bass. Something like that. That’s the very simplified explanation. You’ve seen this on CSI, Criminal Minds or Person of Interest. These crime shows love to depict sounds as waves on a screen.
Pictures are no different. Just a bunch of dots in a rectangle. Each dot is also represented as the Red, Green and Blue numbers. When you apply a filter and turn your selfie into a female with rosy cheeks, or go in the opposite direction to see your manly butch self, you’re just changing the numbers. When you take your picture from reality to Instagram and magically lose those extra pounds, all you’ve done is change the numbers in your midsection.
Even More Numbers
As you swipe your finger up to continue reading or scroll down the page on Medium’s app or the browser you’re using, all you’re doing is sending commands to move the page up and show more text.
I think you know where this is going. The commands that happen behind the scenes are also numbers.
When you click the Back button, or zoom in to magnify the text, you’re simply sending more number commands.
The computer can only understand numbers. But you’ve seen code, right? The weird gibberish you see reflected on programmers’ faces in those high-tech movies? Yes, that hacker-looking stuff. Side rant — I’ve never had green code projected on my face while coding.
Yeah, that all gets translated to number commands that tell the computer to do stuff.
When you’re playing a fully-immersive 3-D game that perfectly detects your strikes and your movement, all you’re doing is controlling numbers within a universe of even more numbers. As you win, lose, level up and what not, you’re simply controlling numbers to fall within certain ranges. These ranges determine if you strike a death blow or just annoy the enemy.
Ones and Zeros
You’ve heard before that computers are all about ones and zeros. Yes, this is absolutely true.
All the numbers I described earlier — the commands, the emojis, the video, etc — are stored as ones and zeros.
I’m not going to bore you with explaining why numbers are ones and zeros. Just leave it to the geeks and the experts to deal with it.
Just know that when you’re streaming your videos or rocking out to Spotify, you really are being bombarded with a bunch of ones and zeros.
It’s like when you’re eating, drinking or just breathing. You’re swallowing and breathing lots of molecules, atoms and electrons. You’re tasting that cheesy quesadilla and savoring that tequila. You’re not tasting the individual atoms.
The ones and zeros are like the electrons and protons of everything in the computer. They make up the numbers you see and hear.