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Analog data is data that is represented in a physical way. Where digital data is a set of individual symbols, analog data is stored in physical media, whether that's the surface grooves on a vinyl record, the magnetic tape of a VCR cassette, or other non-digital media.
One of the big ideas behind today's quickly developing tech world is that much of the world's natural phenomena can be translated into digital text, image, video, sound, etc. For example, physical movements of objects can be modeled in a spatial simulation, and real-time audio and video can be captured using a range of systems and devices.
Analog data may also be known as organic data or real-world data.
One way to characterize analog data is that it simply exists without being measured. For analog data to be converted to digital form, it must be captured and rendered using specific technologies. Typically, digital data uses a simple binary system to build data sets that represent audio or video input.
For one simple example of the difference between analog and digital data, consider moving water. The analog data is the actual water surface in motion, which human senses would perceive as the changes to physical motions as well as the color, texture and even smell of the water itself. A digital format would convert either the physical movement, color properties or both into data sets that will simulate these properties in a hardware interface, or store them for research purposes.
Although some new technologies may blur the line between analog data and digital data, the essential nature of analog data will always be the archetype on which digital conversions are based. In other words, while digital data can simulate and render analog data, it is extremely limited in its ability to comprehensively recreate analog data.