Digitalization and Digitization

‘Digitization’ and digitalization’ are two conceptual terms that are closely associated and often used interchangeably in a broad range of literatures. You might want to argue that there is analytical value in explicitly making a clear distinction between these two terms.

The Oxford English Dictionary traces the first uses of the terms ‘digitization’ and ‘digitalization’ in conjunction with computers to the mid-1950s. Digitization refers to ‘the action of process of digitizing; the conversion of analogue data into digital form.”  Digitalization, by contrast, refers to “the adoption or increase in use of digital or computer technology by an organisation, industry, country, etc”


Scholars across disciplines use the term digitization to refer to the technical process of converting streams of analog information into digital bits with discrete and discontinuous values.  As communication scholar Tony Feldman argues, unlike analogue data with “continuously varying values, digital information is based on just two distinct states. In the digital world, things are there or not there, on or off. There are no in-betweens. Digital information is discrete and clean, whilst analogue information is continuous and noisy.

Across disciplines, many scholars have united in heralding the radical uniqueness of digitization and digitized information. Many have suggested that digitizing information endows it with significant and meaningful qualities. Scholars see these as the characteristics of digital information and the necessary consequences of digitization. For many, digitization radically transforms the entire landscape of media. Certainly, digitization has become ubiquitous; now, almost all the media technologies we routinely interact with are digital.


The first contemporary us of the term “digitalization” in conjunction with computerization appeared in a 1971 essay first published in the North American Review. In it, Robert Wachal discussed the social implications of the “digitalization of society” in the context of considering objections to, and potentials for, computer-assisted humanities research. From this beginning, writing about digitalization has grown into a massive literature.






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