Education on line > Articles in English > What’s in a Name?

Listening time: 4:53 min.

What’s in a Name? Digitalization vs. digitization.

Požádali jsme význačného britského odborníka na oblast firemního vzdělávání a Public Relations a mistra slova pana Boba Littla, spolupracovníka Education online , aby nám pomohl vysvětlit jednu z častých chyb, které se dopouštějí uživatelé angličtiny, pro které není angličtina mateřským jazykem, a to od studentů až po akademiky. Rozpoznat a správně použít aktuálně velmi frekventovaná slova
je tak trochu překladatelský oříšek.
Inu, nejlépe je zeptat se přímo odborníka.

The English playwright and poet, William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616) is credited with adding at least 1700 words to the English language. While sceptics argue that most of these were already words in common usage and Shakespeare was merely the first to record them, scholars agree that he originated at least 422 words.

Shakespeare seems to have known something about coining a neologism (new word). His play, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ contains these lines, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

While coining a neologism appears to be easy, difficulties can arise in defining what the new word means. Take ‘digitization’ and ‘digitalization’ for example. What do they mean – and are they synonymous?

Dismissing one meaning of digitalization – the medicinal administration of digitalis, a substance manufactured by the foxglove plant – both words, in both business and general contexts, relate to the application of technology.

Digitization refers to the process of converting information into a digital format. Basically, this means taking analogue information and encoding it into zeroes and ones so that computers can store, process and transmit it. It’s a process that has been going on, to some degree, for at least the last 60 years. Affecting aspects of everyone’s life, digitization is most notable – and easily identifiable – in corporate life.

Depending on who you ask, digitalization may be the same thing – in the same way that Americans say ‘oriented’ where British English speakers say ‘orientated’. Slightly different words have the same meaning but which version you use will depend on your background, culture and intended audience.

However, technology analyst Gartner believes that, ‘Digitalization is the use of digital technologies to change a business model and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities; it is the process of moving to a digital business.’ If you want to be even more confused, you can try the IGI Global website which gives no less than 33 definitions of digitization. Each definition is slightly different from the other 32.

Writing for the Forbes website, Jason Bloomberg argues that digitization and digitalization have distinct, separate meanings. In his view, digitization refers to the information being processed (into digital form from analogue), while digitalization refers to the process whereby the information is transferred from analogue to digital form.

Bloomberg quotes J. Scott Brennen, Doctoral Candidate in Communication, and Daniel Kreiss, Associate Professor, both at the University of North Carolina School of Media and Journalism, as defining digitalization with reference to how people interact. In their view, as people’s choice of communications moves from analogue technologies (such as snail mail and telephone calls) to digital ones (email, chat, social media and so on), so these communication channels become digitalized.

We can all agree that digitization has transformed the world and digitalization is still transforming the world of work – so much so that the acquisition of digital skills has now become a prerequisite for both individual and corporate success. Yet it would be wise to check, if possible, whether someone using the word ‘digitalization’ is using it to mean digitizing information or the specific process of digitizing that information.

Having settled that issue – digitizing information and/or processes – there is still the issue of agreeing the definition and scope of the increasingly used phrase, ‘digital transformation’. While digitization and digitalization are about technology, digital transformation is about the customer – but that is the subject for another article.

If we are confused by all this, we could fall back on Shakespeare’s philosophy on neologisms. Or, perhaps, we could take a leaf out of the book of the nineteenth century English writer, Lewis Carroll. In ‘Through the Looking Glass’, he wrote: “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

By Bob Little

Bob Little is a UK-based writer, commentator and publicist, specialising in the corporate learning industry. Yet he is so much more – with interests, and skills, in such fields as music, history and sport. Having graduated – in economics – from University College Cardiff, part of the University of Wales, Bob became a journalist and editor specialising in the corporate training/ learning sector. He was introduced to what became the corporate online learning technologies industry in May 1990. Bob works globally and his work is published around the world. He advises and helps promote the interests of a number of organisations around the world – ranging from small, niche organisations to large enterprises.

For further details, contact Bob via

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