Get Set for the Decline of (the Word) Digital

To be crystal clear from the get go, it’s the word I mean, not DIGITAL digital! Honestly, we could not be hyper connected, clued up and always on without it.



History of the word digital

I was recently and randomly curious about the history of the much used word ‘digital’. With the popularity of high tech charged lingo, new inventions have regularly sparked misspelt, tweaked and made up brand names. And if you look at Orange and Apple, this has even been about adding new meaning to old words that previously described delicious fruit!

Well ‘digital’ is distinctly different to Google, Facebook, et al because the word can be traced right back to the 15th century. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, early evidence of use was in the sense of “designating a whole number less than ten.” The other sense of the word ‘digit’ dating back to the 17th century was of course “pertaining to a finger.” 

From obscurity to the masses

Believe it or not, for about 500 years digital was a largely unimportant and mostly dormant word. Then from the 20th century the word stormed right back up the popularity charts as super clever mathematicians and engineers developed modern computing. This operated based on data represented as a series of discrete digits (as opposed to analogue).

So anything composed of sequences of digits was described as digital!

The word then ‘crossed the chasm’, went even more mainstream and was applied to highlight new alternative methods (e.g. digital photography, digital video). Now in the 21st century, the word has gained even greater significance but with much looser meaning. Just do a word count in any business article or annual report and it will surely be right up there!

So as everything (apart from real world stuff) becomes digital, will the boom subside? I’m not talking about digital, I’m of course referring to the word itself. 

The decline in usage of the word

Well there is very likely to be an ongoing decline in usage as the 21st century powers on because we will no longer describing an alternative. If something becomes everything then do we really need the descriptor? Think about it … does anybody talk about their flash new ‘digital television’ anymore (as opposed to their trusty old ‘analogue television’).

google trends

google trends

If you take a quick look at Google Trends, then it's apparent that interest in the search term 'digital' has already been in steady decline over the last 10 years:

Not digital first but people first

The rapid pace of change and increase in channel complexity has ignited opportunities to create new business models and differentiate based on the customer journey. There has been a boom in experts, a need for greater #skillsets and the lure of the ‘shiny new thing’. But as per my creamy pasta salad example, the focus on the customer should always remain #1.

So when do you think ‘digital marketing’ will once again be marketing, and ‘digital strategy’ will once again be strategy? Or will it change at all? As digital becomes even more pervasive (and a growing percentage of the population know absolutely no different), the usage of the term may become irrelevant and superfluous or it may evolve forwards in a completely different way.

This could happen sooner rather than later as the title sometimes forces false silos (think budgets, teams, etc) and pushes us away from a human-centred approach. We should not the thinking digital first, we should be thinking people first. Tom Goodwin very cleverly pointed out that our thinking is limiting progress ... "It's now 2016, time to ban the word digital."

I guess only digital time will tell! #marketingtrends #wordtrends