The main difference seems to be that, whereas photography still claims some sort of objectivity, digital imaging is an overtly fictional process. As a practice that is known to be capable of nothing but fabrication, digitization abandons even the rhetoric of truth that has been such an important part of photography’s cultural success.
Remember that image of Truman holding up the premature issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune declaring his defeat by Dewey? It is in the Corbis catalogue. Remember Malcolm X pointing out over his crowd of listeners, the airship Hindenberg exploding in the New Jersey sky, that naked Vietnamese child running towards us after being burned by napalm, Churchill flashing his V-for-victory sign, Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, Patty Hearst posing with her gun in front of the Symbionese Liberation Army banner, LBJ being sworn into office aboard Air Force One beside a blood-splattered Jackie? Corbis offers to lease us electronic versions of them all; it offers to sell us, in other words, the ability to reproduce our memories of our own culture, and therefore of ourselves.
As a medium based on contiguity (the condition of being in contact), what photography gave to modernity was not vision, but touch (or, more precisely, vision as a form of touch). This visual touch allows photography to establish a special relationship between its subject and ourselves, a kind of carnal knowledge unique to the photographic medium. It has also allowed photography to claim a special relationship to memory.
And within the logic of [the electronic economy], the identity of an image is no longer distinguishable from any other piece of datum, be it animal, vegetable, or “experiential” in origin. Indeed, given the rhyzomatic structure of the electronic universe, the point of origin is no longer of consequence. All that matters (in every sense of the word) is the possibility of instantaneous dissemination and exact reproduction of data.