Data (general)

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This article is for data as it pertains to computer science. For other uses, see byte (disambiguation).

Data means "pieces of information." It can represent numbers, words, images, music, and video, though it is important to note that data itself has no specific context.

How it works

Data is represented in its simplest form in one of two ways:

Mechanical data

An analog computer uses a physical quantity, such as a voltage or hydraulics, to solve another physical problem.

Digital data

Digital computers use a language called binary, a purely mathematical language represented in series of ones and zeros that act as switches. When the switch is "on" it is a one, and the mathematical value its placement represents is added to the total value of a series. This language is used because the electronic transistors in computer chips are designed to carry a charge, or not carry a charge, and by arranging these transistors in series they can represent many multiple combinations. Binary is the language that all data is simplified to when it is used by a computer.


Normally in English, 'datum' (the singular of 'data') is used in the same way as its Latin root word, to mean "something given". But its Latin plural "data" has also become singular in English: "this is the data", not "these are...".

Data can be used in every conceivable application. Raw data is any data that is unprocessed by an alternate source. For example, if a user inputs 4 into a computer, it is raw data until it has been processed by that computer and either stored or transmitted to another computer or user. If it is transmitted, it is again "raw" going to its destination, as it has not yet been processed by that computer or user.

Origin of term

In simple terms, data is information without context. That is to say, 1,000 is data, because it is simply a number without any context. $1,000 is information, because it is a monetary value. "I owe $1,000" is knowledge, because it is acquired information. "I will talk to the person I owe $1,000 to, because he has given other people extensions," is wisdom, because it is information acquired based on previous experiences.

First computer use

The term data was first used in computing in 1946, when it was used to refer to "transmittable and storable computer information".