Gareth Branwyn garethb2 at EARTHLINK.NET
Tue Jun 19 18:20:31 UTC 2001

In Paul's WordSpy today, the word is "telematics." In the "Backgrounder"
he writes:

Telematics -- which combines "telecommunication" and "informatics"
(information science) --  is not a new word. It dates to 1979 and even
has a perch in the Oxford English Dictionary. What is new, however, is
that this once obscure nook of computer science has become astonishingly
popular, if
you measure popularity by the number of times newspapers or magazines
use a word. First, consider the following citation statistics from the
Lexis-Nexis database:

1980-1984: 109 citations
1985-1989: 806
1990-1994: 1,406
1995: 718
1996: 467
1997: 639
1998: 895
1999: 964
2000: 2,933
2001: 1,821 (less than six months)

As you can see, the use of the word telematics has exploded over the
past couple of years. The reason is that, as the above New York Times
citation shows, the media have begun associating telematics with
so-called "vehicle-based information systems," such as the OnStar
service offered by
General Motors. In the media's collective mind, telematics isn't the
broad science of transmitting data over long distances, but the narrow
category of delivering wireless communications, navigational assistance,
and Brady Bunch
reruns to the minivan.


Paul, I think your comment is somewhat misleading. It's not necessarily
journalists who've misunderstood the usage, it's the auto industry that
has changed it. When I did my feature piece on near-future personal tech
for the April issue of Esquire, I did a two page spread on automobiles.
When I called the car companies, they all used this term. I asked them
to define their usage, and they used it in a different way than just
"long-distance communication of computer data." They apply it to all of
the networked computer systems in the car (both local and remote):
safety systems, biometric security, entertainment, etc. It's an
unfortunate drift, because the "tele" part of many of these systems is
minimal (and for some, not at all), but is the auto industry that is
responsible, not journalists. BTW: In the first draft of my Esquire
piece, I had a parenthetical clarification of the etymology of the term,
but alas, it ended up on the cutting room floor).

PS: I just did a search and found this article, from the Automotive
Industry Association, that illustrates this drift of usage:

"By the most basic definition, telematics refers to the combination of a
wireless telephone and an onboard computer. Most of the burgeoning
field's players are likely to use a broader description, taking in a
wide range of computer-driven technologies that have a direct interface
with the driver or passenger, including stand-alone navigation or
adaptive cruise control.

The latter falls into the category of safety and security, and for the
moment, that makes up the biggest demand for telematic hardware and
services in the United States..."

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