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Patterns and Practices in How Information Technology Spread around the World
October-December 2008 (vol. 30 no. 4)
pp. 4-25
Information technology spread around the world faster than most other technologies in recent centuries. A combination of eight approaches made this happen, each occurring simultaneously in varying degrees between the 1950s and the present.

1. In the US the largest ongoing study, with reports appearing every few weeks, is the "Pew Internet and American Life" project, http:/ On Europe, both the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) and the Economist Intelligence Unit conduct similar, although less frequent, studies and surveys.
2. Since 2000, in particular, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has conducted such studies; see, for example, The 2008 e-Readiness Rankings, EIU, London, 2008.
3. An important early attempt to address these issues can be found in a collection of papers discussing many countries: R. Coopey, ed., Information Technology Policy: An International History, Oxford Univ. Press, A. Siaroff and L. Clement, "The State and Industrial Flowers: Japanese Versus French Computer Strategy, 1960s–1980s," J. Public Policy, vol. 17, 2004, Jan.–Apr. 1997, pp. 31-61.
4. For details of this initiative, see .
5. Documented most recently by E.M. Rogers in the fifth edition of his Diffusion of Innovations, Free Press, 2003, but see also E. von Hippel, The Sources of Innovation, Oxford Univ. Press, 1988. Historians have yet to develop comprehensive accounts of innovation in the post World War II period to the extent that experts in other disciplines have, such as Rogers and von Hippel.
6. E. von Hippel, Democratizing Innovation, MIT Press, 2005, L. Kim, and R.R. Nelson eds. , Technology, Learning, and Innovation: Experiences of Newly Industrializing Economies, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000.
7. T. Berners-Lee and M. Fisschett, Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web by Its Inventor, HarperCollins, 1999.
8. Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations, p. 474.
9. Best told by K. Flamm, Targeting the Computer: Government Support and International Competition, Brookings Institution, 1987, and in his Creating the Computer: Government, Industry and High Technology, Brookings Institution, 1988.
10. I gave considerable attention to the role of such organizations in The Digital Hand, 3 vols. Oxford Univ. Press, 2004–2008.
11. As this article went to press in late 2008, a dozen historians in Europe were beginning to collaborate on just such a project, led by G. Alberts and me, examining the experience of Western Europe since the end of World War II.
12. The literature is vast, but for an introduction to global issues, see D.W. Jorgenson, M.S. Ho, and K.J. Stiroh, Productivity, 3 vols. MIT Press, 1995–2005.
13. Kim and Nelson, Technology, Learning, and Innovation, pp. 113-116.
14. P.E. Ceruzzi, Internet Alley: High Technology in Tysons Corner, 1945–2005, MIT Press, 2008.
15. First recognized as early as 1980 by S.H. Lavington, Early British Computers, Digital Press, 1980.
16. A key finding in The Digital Hand, 3 vols.
17. One might also add that the availability of a large community of appropriately trained electrical engineers and scientists resident in universities or that had acquired skills in advanced electronics during World War II was a factor facilitating the rapid advance of computer technology in the US.
18. C. Lécuyer, Making Silicon Valley: Innovation and the Growth of High Tech, 1930–1970, MIT Press, 2006, M. Kenny, and J. Seely-Brown eds. , Understanding Silicon Valley: The Anatomy of an Entrepreneurial Region, Stanford Univ. Press, 2000.
19. S. Budiansky, Battle of Wits: The Complete Story of Codebreaking in World War II, Free Press, A.E. Sale, "The Colossus of Bletchley Park—The German Cipher System," The First Computers: History and Architecture, R. Rojas, and U. Hashagen eds. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000, 2000, pp. 351-364.
20. R. Coopey, Information Technology Policy, F. Verdon, and M. Wells, "Computing in British Universities: The Computer Board 1966–1991," The Computer J, vol. 38, no. 10, 1995, pp. 822-830.
21. G. Ferry, A Computer Called Leo: Lyons Teashops and the World's First Office Computer, 4th Estate, 2003.
22. J. Agar, The Government Machine: A Revolutionary History of the Computer, MIT Press, 2003, takes the story back into the 19th century, but it is the essential source along with M. Campbell-Kelly, ICL: A Business and Technical History, Oxford Univ. Press, 1989; J. Hendry, Innovating for Failure: Government Policy and the Early British Computer Industry, MIT Press, 1989.
23. The key issue discussed in Hendry's Innovating for Failure.
24. K.R. Lee, "Technological Learning and Entries of User Firms for Capital Goods in Korea," Technology, Learning, and Innovation, L. Kim, and R.R. Nelson eds. pp. 170-192.
25. , On the relative IT prowess of Korea, see J.W. Cortada, A.M. Gupta, and M. Le Noir, How Nations Thrive in the Information Age, IBM, 2007.
26. M. Fransman, The Market and Beyond: Cooperation and Competition in Information Technology in the Japanese System, Cambridge Univ. Press 1990, pp. 177-242.
27. R.A. Fannin, Silicon Dragon: How China Is Winning the Tech Race, McGraw-Hill, 2008.
28. P.E. Mounier Le Comiténational du CNRS et l'émergence de nouvelles disciplines au CNRS: le cas de l'informatique, 1946–1976 [The National CNRS Committee and the Emergence of New Disciplines: The Case of Information Technology, 1946–1976], Centre Science, Technologie et Societe, CNAM, 1987, and his "Sur L'Histoire de L'Informatique en France," Eng. Science and Education J, vol. 3, no. 1, 1995, pp. 37-40.
29. J. Maisonrouge, Inside IBM: A Personal Story, McGraw-Hill, 1985, pp. 150-158, For an economic explanation on the role of innovation, see B. Eichengreen, The European Economy Since 1945: Coordinated Capitalism and Beyond, Princeton Univ. Press, 2007, pp. 257–263.
30. A.D. Chandler, Inventing the Electronic Century: The Epic Story of the Consumer Electronics and Computer Industries, Harvard Univ. Press, 2005, pp. 181-183.
31. J. Jublin and J.-M</surname>, Quatrepoint, French Ordinateurs, de l'affaire Bull àl'assassinat du Plan Calcul, [Quadripoint: French Computing, The Bull Affair and the Assassination of Plan Calcul], éditions alain moreau, 1976, pp. 17-27; C. Le Bolloch, "L'intervention de l'Etat dans l'Industrie Eléctronique en France de 1974 à1981" [The Intervention of the State in the French Electronic Industry, 1974 to 1091], PhD dissertation, Universitéde rennes I, VER de Sciences Economiques, 1983.
32. V.N. Koutrakou, Technological Collaboration for Europe's Survival, Avebury, J.-P Brulé L'Informatique Malade de L'etat Du Plan Calcul àBULL Nationalisé, e: Un fiasco de 40 milliards [Weak Data Processing and the State's Plan Calcul to Nationalize Bull: A Disaster of 40,000,000], Les Belles Lettres, 1995, 1993, pp. 72-78.
33. EIU, The 2008 e-Readiness Ranking.
34. Eichengreen, The European Economy Since, 1945, pp. 400-406.
35. Chandler, Inventing the Electronic Century, p. 183.
36. Use of the private sector in support of public policy continues. Russian president Vladimir Putin is routinely accused of using his local oil and gas industries as tools to promote Russian foreign policy objectives in Poland and Germany, for example.
37. See, for example, Jorgenson, Productivity, vol. 2, pp. 242-244.
38. A.J. Harman, The International Computer Industry: Innovation and Comparative Advantage, Harvard Univ. Press, Globalization, Technology and Competition: The Fusion of Computers and Telecommunications in the 1990s, Harvard Business School Press, 1993; but see also a more balanced view, M. Campbell-Kelly and D.D. Garcia-Swartz, "Economic Perspectives on the History of the Computer Time-Sharing Industry, 1965–1985," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 30, no. 1, 1971, 2008, pp. 16-37.
39. K. Kraemer et al., "Entrepreneurship, Flexibility and Policy Coordination: Taiwan's Computer Industry," Information Soc, vol. 12, no. 3, K.Y. Tam, "Analysis of Firm-Level Computer Investments: A Comparative Study of Three Pacific-Rim Economies," IEEE Trans. Energy Management, vol. 45, no. 3, J. Vang, and B. Asheim, "Regions, Absorptive Capacity and Strategic Coupling with High-Tech TNC: Lessons from India and China," Science Technology and Soc., no. 11, , 1998, 2006, pp. 39-66.
40. R.N. Langlois and W.E. Steinmueller, "The Evolution of Competitive Advantage in the Worldwide Semiconductor Industry, 1947–1996," Sources of Industrial Leadership: Studies of Seven Industries, D.C. Mowery, and R.R. Nelson eds. Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999, pp. 55-56.
41. J.A. Mathews, and D.-S Cho, Tiger Technology: The Creation of a Semiconductor Industry in East Asia, Cambridge Univ. Press, W.-Y Lee, "The Role of Science and Technology Policy in Korea's Industrial Development," Technology, Learning, and Innovation, L. Kim, and R.R. Nelson eds. 2000, pp. 291-303.
42. "Ibid," pp. 56-57.
43. , Recently studied for Japan; see M. Ito, D. Okabe, and M. Matsuda, eds., Personal, Portable, Pedestrian: Mobile Phones in Japanese Life, MIT Press, 2005.
44. K.L. Kraemer and J. Dedrick, "Payoff from Investments in Information Technology: Lessons from the Asian-Pacific Region," World Development, vol. 22, no. 12, N. Hachigian, and L. Wu, The Information Revolution in Asia, RAND Corp., 2003, pp. 1921-1931, H.S. Rowen, M.G. Hancock, and W.F. Miller eds. Making IT: The Rise of Asia in High Tech, Stanford Univ. Press, 2007, pp. 1921-1931,
45. R. Chadha, and P. Husband, The Cult of the Luxury Brand: Inside Asia's Love Affair with Luxury, Nicholas Brealey, 2006, p. 287.
46. A. Greenspan, The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World, Penguin, 2007, p. 127.
47. Eichengreen, The European Economy Since 1945, pp. 131-162, pp. 294-334.
48. G. Banse, C.J. Langenbach, and P. Machleidt eds. , Towards the Information Society: The Case of Central and Eastern European Countries, Springer, 2000.
49. L.R. Graham, What Have We Learned About Science and Technology from the Russian Experience?, Stanford Univ. Press, D.S. Wellman, A Chip in the Curtain: Computing Technology in the Soviet Union, National Defense Univ. Press, A. Fitzpatrick, T. Kazakova, and S. Berkovich, "MESM and the Beginning of the Computer Era in the Soviet Union," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 28, no. 3, E. Kiselyova, and M. Castells, "Russia in the Information Age," Russia in the New Century, V. Bonnell, and G. Breslaver eds. Westview Press, An older, useful study is by W.K. McHenry, "The Absorption of Computerized Management Information Systems in Soviet Enterprises"; unpublished PhD dissertation Univ. of Arizona, 1985, pp. 4-16, pp. 126-157.
50. , It is a topic hardly mentioned in any publication and remains shrouded in secrecy. While in IBM sales, I personally witnessed several attempts in the 1970s and early 1980s of state-of-the-art computers moving from my customers through France and Mexico to destinations that I suspected would ultimately be behind the Iron Curtain. France, in particular, seemed to be a popular pass-through to Eastern Europe for American technology in these years. See also F. Cain, "Computers and the Cold War: United States Restrictions on the Export of Computers to the Soviet Union and Communist China," J. Contemporary History, no. 40, 2005, pp. 131-147.
51. Described in part by S. Gerovitch, From Newspeak to Cyberspeak: A History of Soviet Cybernetics, MIT Press, 2002.
52. V. Katkalo and D.C. Mowery, "Institutional Structure and Innovation in the Emerging Russian Software Industry," D.C. Mowery ed. , The International Computer Software Industry: A Comparative Study of Industry Evolution and Structure, Oxford Univ. Press, D.J. Peterson, Russia and the Information Revolution, RAND Corp., 2005, pp. 240-271.
53. The variety of inexpensive products made this situation possible. For descriptions of many, see N.D. Evans, Consumer Gadgets, Financial Times/Prentice Hall, 2003.
54. E.J. Wilson, The Information Revolution and Developing Countries, MIT Press, J.M. Popkin, and P. Lyengar, IT and the East: How China and India Are Altering the Future of Technology and Innovation, Harvard Univ. Press, C. Eltschinger, Source Code China: The New Global Hub of IT Outsourcing, John Wiley &Sons, 2004, 2007, 2007, pp. 33-59.
55. Z. Ling and M. Avery, The Lenovo Affair: The Growth of China's Computer Giant and Its Takeover of IBM-PC, John Wiley &Sons, 2006.
56. Popkin and Lyengar, IT and the East, pp. 73-125.
57. J. Dzisah, "Information and Communication Technologies and Development in Ghana," Science Technology and Society, no. 11, 2006, pp. 379-396.
58. UN E-Government Survey 2008, United Nations, 2008, p. 20.
59. "Ibid," p. 21.
60. From International Telecommunication Union; see http:/
61. C. Bryan-Low, "New Frontiers for Cellphone Service," Wall Street J.,13 Feb. 2007, p. B5.
62. M. Castells et al., Mobile Communication and Society: A Global Perspective, MIT Press, 2007, pp. 231-239.
63. Cortada, The Digital Hand, vol. 2, p. 120.
64. Widely read at the time was J. Buchan, Scientific Inventory Management, Prentice-Hall, 1963.
65. S.A. Brown, Revolution at the Checkout Counter: The Explosion of the Bar Code, Harvard Univ. Press 1997, pp. 139-173.
66. M. Campbell-Kelly and W. Aspray, Computer: A History of the Information Machine, Basic Books, 1996, pp. 97-99, The role of these associations was profound and has not been methodically studied.
67. There is a rapidly growing literature on the origins and diffusion of games. Two excellent examples are S.L. Kent, The Ultimate History of Video Games: From Pong to Pokeman and Beyond—The Story Behind the Craze that Touched Our Lives and Changed the World, Prime Publishing, 2001, and V. Burnham and R.H. Baer, Supercode: A Visual History of the Videogame Age, 1971–1984, MIT Press, 2001. The IEEE Annals of the History of Computing will publish an entire issue on the subject, forthcoming.
68. "2008 International CES: CES Fact Sheet;," www.cesweb.orgaboutces.asp.
69. J.L. McKenney, Waves of Change: Business Evolution through Information Technology, Harvard Business School Press, 1995, pp. 41-95.
70. C. Shapiro and H.R. Varian, Information Rules: A Strategic Guide to the Network Economy, Harvard Business School Press, 1999, pp. 13-14, 1999, pp. 183-184.
71. One of the main findings in The Digital Hand, 3 vols.
72. This is increasingly becoming the subject of studies by the Economist Intelligence Unit, IBM Institute for Business Value, and others, but there are no contemporary major surveys available documenting the full range of public sector applications. The closest is on the US: Cortada, The Digital Hand, vol. 3.
73. For instance, US Department of Commerce and the Pew Foundation.
74. Documented in the annual EIU's E-Readiness Ranking reports published every spring.
75. Although there is a paucity of information about computing in Africa, there is activity there; see Wilson, The Information Revolution and Developing Countries, pp. 173-221.
76. This is the essence of DEC's story: engineers selling computers to fellow engineers or, put conversely, engineers buying computers from other engineers: E.H. Schein, DEC Is Dead, Long Live DEC: The Lasting Legacy of Digital Equipment Corporation, Berrett-Koehler, 2004, pp. 42-45.
77. A theme recently studied in a broad context by Y. Benkler, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, Yale Univ. Press, 2006.
78. Greenspan, The Age of Turbulence, pp. 11-12.
79. As part of my responsibilities at IBM, I have had the occasion to meet with European and American regulators between 2000 and the present who made these points to me regarding these specific industries.
80. The phenomenon is described in one of the most famous articles ever published on path dependency and technology: P. David, "Clio and the Economics of QWERTY," Am. Economic Rev. Papers and Proceedings, vol. 75, no. 2, 1985, pp. 332-337.
81. Most famously by T.K. Landauer, The Trouble With Computers: Usefulness, Usability, and Productivity, MIT Press, 1995, pp. 76-78, 1995, pp. 141-203.
82. C.J. Bashe et al., IBM's Early Computers, MIT Press, 1986, and E.W. Pugh, L.R. Johnson, and J.H. Palmer, IBM's 360 and Early 370 Systems, MIT Press, 1991.
83. Chandler, Inventing the Electronic Century, pp. 110-117.
84. M.A. Schilling, "Technological Leapfrogging: Lessons From the U.S. Video Game Console Industry," California Management Rev., vol. 45, no. 3, 2003, pp. 6-32.
85. See, for example, A.C. Hughes and T.R. Hughes, eds., Systems, Experts, and Computers, MIT Press, 2000.
86. S. Weber, The Success of Open Source, Harvard Univ. Press, 2004.
87. A process recently demonstrated effectively by J. Yates, Structuring the Information Age: Life Insurance and Technology in the Twentieth Century, Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2005.
88. F. Fernández-Armesto, Civilizations: Culture, Ambition, and The Transformation of Nature, Free Press, 2001, p. 464.

Index Terms:
Information technology, diffusion, government policies, computer hardware
James W. Cortada, "Patterns and Practices in How Information Technology Spread around the World," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 30, no. 4, pp. 4-25, Oct.-Dec. 2008, doi:10.1109/MAHC.2008.71
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