What we can learn from the word story of ‘digital’?
In my previous post, we looked why it was important for Telco’s to go digital. While writing that post, I had intended to write a follow-up about the definition of a Digital Telco. In this post, I will start on the follow-up by looking at the definition of ‘digital’.
I am currently reading Raymond William‘s masterpiece ‘Culture and Society’. In the opening chapter, Raymond explores the evolving meanings of a few important words during the period 1780-1950. Some of these words include:
- Industry (from human attribute of perseverance to manufacturing, means of production to institution )
- Class (division in a school to social order),
- Culture (tending of natural growth or process of human training to general state of mind,general state of intellectual development in a society , general body of arts to finally whole way of life, material, intellectual & spiritual) ,
- Art (human attribute/skill to represent the creative or imaginative art)
This got me thinking about the word ‘digital’ which seemed to everywhere these days with regards to its potential to disrupt industries.
A quick googling led me to the very interesting word stories page from Oxford English Dictionary (OED) written by Richard Holden about digital. It is surprising to see evolution of the usage (as mentioned in the OED word story)
- In the sense ‘designating a whole number less than ten’ (fifteenth century)
- ‘of or pertaining to a finger, or to the fingers or digits’ (1897 OED entry)
- Digital devices as opposed to analogue (1930-40)
- Digital media (1970s onward – information having a digital equivalent in CDs etc) – subsequent fall in this usage since the default was digital
- Digital as an embracing of computer technology or internet – replacement of real world equivalents with digital e.g. digital art, digital marketing etc.
In addition to the above, we have also seen, since the 1960s with the growth of business software, numerous paper based business processes getting digitised with technology (or going ‘digital’).
Today, we are also seeing entire industries becoming digital with new business models as seen in the growth of the on-demand economy with startups who’re disrupting entire industries and creating new ones. With the internet of things, we are also seeing the usage of digital pertaining to connecting things via the internet to one another (or to put it another way ‘digital’ economy is bringing the world closer).
I am sure there are similar equally interesting stories from usage of technology, IT, software and the plethora of other words we’re used to – keen to hear your views on the same.