digital divide - origin of the term

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Thu May 23 11:41:38 UTC 2013

Yesterday, Amy West used the term "digital divide" in a message to the
list. Synchronistically, a faculty member at Nova Southeastern
University sent me an email enquiring about the origin of the term.
It has been used with multiple senses in the past. Here is an excerpt
from an article published in January 1996 in the New York Times that
employed the phrase with the relevant denotation:

[ref] 1996 January 29, A New Gulf in American Education, the Digital
Divide Gary Andrew Poole, Quote Page D3, New York. (ProQuest)[/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
The digital divide between these two schools in the heart of Silicon
Valley provides perhaps the most striking example anywhere in the
nation of a widening gap - between children who are being prepared for
lives and careers in the information age, and those who may find
themselves held back.
[End excerpt]

The faculty member would like to determine who coined the term. The
citation above is the earliest one (known to me) that illustrates the
pertinent sense stressing socioeconomic stratification.

Here are some apparently earlier instances of "digital divide" used
with different meanings. The second example below overlaps with the
sense used in New York Times.

In November 1995 David Plotnikoff examined several books about "cyber
culture" in a book review column. He found that some were optimistic
about the societal value of computer systems and the emerging
communication networks linking them. He also found some were skeptical
and critical of the nascent "wired world". Plotnikoff used the phrase
"digital divide" to refer to the division between the evaluators of
"cyber culture" who were positively disposed and negatively disposed.

Date: November 6, 1995
Newspaper: San Jose Mercury News
Article title: Cyber Culture Primers: The Internet Handbooks May Be
Obsolete by Tomorrow But a Few Comprehensive Works Provide Genuine
Insight into the Culture of a Brave New Digital World
Author: David Plotnikoff
Section: Living
Page: 1C
Newspaper location: San Jose, California
Database: NewsBank Access World News

[Begin excerpt]
Like Stoll, Moore is skeptical about the overselling of cyberspace.
But his take is that the zealots on both sides of the digital divide
are ''full of hooey.'' While Stoll's was a somewhat bitter and
strident insider's lament, this is an outsider's query, filled with
warmth and genuine wonder.
[End excerpt]

In December 1995 a trade journal called American Printer mentioned a
conference called "Crossing the Digital Divide". The printing industry
was moving from analog technologies to digital technologies. The
article mentioned "visions of an all-digital workflow". The term
"digital divide" referred to the technological transition from analog
to digital. This use of the term did not emphasize socioeconomic or
class divisions. Yet, substantial outlays were required to implement
the new digital methods.

Date: December 1995
Periodical: American Printer
Article title: Editor's desk
Author: Mark Smith
Page: 4
Publisher: Penton Business Media, Inc. and Penton Media Inc.
Place of publication: Chicago, Illinois
Database: ProQuest ABI/INFORM Complete

[Begin excerpt]
Offering just such a reality check was the recent Crossing the Digital
Divide conference sponsored by the National Assn. of Printers and
Lithographers and the Rochester Institute of Technology. While most of
the attendees had at least taken initial steps into the digital era,
some had yet to buy even their first Mac, which is precisely the
audience the conference was developed to address.
[End excerpt]

On December 13, 1995 a person posted a message to a Grateful Dead
newsgroup about switching from analog recording methods to digital
recording methods, and used the descriptive phrase "leap across the
digital divide", The term "DAT" in the following excerpt referred to
digital audio tape.

Usenet newsgroup:
From: w... at leland.Stanford.EDU (William Evans Bailey)
Subject: DAT Freaks--help.
Date: December 13, 1995
Database: Google Groups

[Begin excerpt]
I'm trying to leap across the digital divide and need some assistance.
 Could anybody spin a DAT or two?  I have analog to offer, but that
probably doesn't help.
[End excerpt]

An article dated 2009 at the website examined the history
of "digital divide" and included the following claim:

[Begin except]
When all of the clues are culled through, it seems that Hammond, who
today teaches law at Santa Clara University Law School, was the
co-inventor, along with NTIA Administrator Larry Irving, of the phrase
"Digital Divide." At any rate, in 1996, Newsweek Magazine named
Irving, "Conscience of the Internet," and the phrase Digital Divide
found its way into speeches by Vice President, Al Gore.
[End excerpt]


The American Dialect Society -

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