In the Brussels bubble, “digitalisation” is the buzzword du jour. I always thought it meant scanning printed texts and converting them to a digital format. That’s apparently now “digitisation” (and the distinction between the two is still not entirely clear to me).

I gather that “digitalisation” refers, in EU policy circles, to the growing adoption and spread of digital technologies across the whole of society (and the economy in particular). I’ve seen it compared to the process of electrification.

Different people will give you different definitions. When we’re talking about digitisation, digitalisation, and even “digital transformation”, meaning can be somewhat protean (though, in theory, the three terms mean different things). In any event, the term “digitalisation” in the context of the increasing use of computers and related technology apparently dates back to the 1970s, though Google tells me it’s only been gaining popularity as a search term since roughly 2016.

Furthermore, 15 minutes of completely unscientific Google research using various date ranges suggests that most of the big global organisations and institutions (e.g. the World Bank, OECD, UN, IMF, EU, etc.) started using the term in earnest only around 2016-2017, though it does occasionally crop up earlier (albeit often with the older definition of scanning printed texts).

Regardless, the new European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, reportedly considers digitalisation one of her “main policy priorities”. She has referenced digitalisation in her speeches repeatedly, arguing that the phenomena “has a huge impact on the way we live, work and communicate” and that Europe should harness the “twin power of digitalisation and climate transition to boost our industrial base”.

For good or ill, a new buzzword is born.