Marie Hicks: Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing (2017)

18 October 2018, dusan

“How Britain lost its early dominance in computing by systematically discriminating against its most qualified workers: women.

In 1944, Britain led the world in electronic computing. By 1974, the British computer industry was all but extinct. What happened in the intervening thirty years holds lessons for all postindustrial superpowers. As Britain struggled to use technology to retain its global power, the nation’s inability to manage its technical labor force hobbled its transition into the information age.

In Programmed Inequality, Marie Hicks explores the story of labor feminization and gendered technocracy that undercut British efforts to computerize. That failure sprang from the government’s systematic neglect of its largest trained technical workforce simply because they were women. Women were a hidden engine of growth in high technology from World War II to the 1960s. As computing experienced a gender flip, becoming male-identified in the 1960s and 1970s, labor problems grew into structural ones and gender discrimination caused the nation’s largest computer user—the civil service and sprawling public sector—to make decisions that were disastrous for the British computer industry and the nation as a whole.

Drawing on recently opened government files, personal interviews, and the archives of major British computer companies, Programmed Inequality takes aim at the fiction of technological meritocracy. Hicks explains why, even today, possessing technical skill is not enough to ensure that women will rise to the top in science and technology fields. Programmed Inequality shows how the disappearance of women from the field had grave macroeconomic consequences for Britain, and why the United States risks repeating those errors in the twenty-first century.”

Publisher MIT Press, 2017
ISBN 9780262035545, 0262035545
x+342 pages

Reviews: Ksenia Tatarchenko (British Journal for the History of Science, 2017), Janet Abbate (IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, 2017), Lianne Gutcher (The National, 2017), Dominic Lenton (E&T, 2018), John Gilbey (Times Higher Education), Christophe J. Phillips (Isis, 2018), Mark J. Crowley (History, 2018), Megan Finn (Information & Culture, 2018).


HTML, PDF (removed on 2018-10-26 upon request from publisher)

Matthew G. Kirschenbaum: Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing (2016)

30 July 2018, dusan

“The story of writing in the digital age is every bit as messy as the ink-stained rags that littered the floor of Gutenberg’s print shop or the hot molten lead of the Linotype machine. During the period of the pivotal growth and widespread adoption of word processing as a writing technology, some authors embraced it as a marvel while others decried it as the death of literature. The product of years of archival research and numerous interviews conducted by the author, Track Changes is the first literary history of word processing.

Matthew Kirschenbaum examines how the interests and ideals of creative authorship came to coexist with the computer revolution. Who were the first adopters? What kind of anxieties did they share? Was word processing perceived as just a better typewriter or something more? How did it change our understanding of writing?

Track Changes balances the stories of individual writers with a consideration of how the seemingly ineffable act of writing is always grounded in particular instruments and media, from quills to keyboards. Along the way, we discover the candidates for the first novel written on a word processor, explore the surprisingly varied reasons why writers of both popular and serious literature adopted the technology, trace the spread of new metaphors and ideas from word processing in fiction and poetry, and consider the fate of literary scholarship and memory in an era when the final remnants of authorship may consist of folders on a hard drive or documents in the cloud.”

Publisher Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2016
ISBN 9780674417076, 0674417070
xvi+344+[16] pages
via slowrotation

Reviews: Brian Dillon (The Guardian, 2016), Jessica Pressman (ALH Online Reviews, 2016), Eric Banks (Bookforum, 2016), Dylan Hicks (LA Review of Books, 2016), Kirkus Reviews (2016), Francis Russell (Hong Kong Review of Books, 2016), A. Bowdoin Van Riper (PopMatters, 2016), Leann Davis Alspaugh (Hedgehog Review, 2016), Thomas Padilla (American Archivist, 2017), Lai-Tze Fan (Papers of The Bibliographical Society of Canada, 2017), Seth Erickson (Interactions, 2017), David Walden (TUGboat, 2017), Grant Wythoff (Revista Hispánica Moderna, 2018), Elena Spadini (Umanistica Digitale, 2018).

Online companion

PDF (14 MB)

Ellen Ullman: Life in Code: A Personal History of Technology (2017)

21 March 2018, dusan

“The last twenty years have brought us the rise of the internet, the development of artificial intelligence, the ubiquity of once unimaginably powerful computers, and the thorough transformation of our economy and society. Through it all, Ellen Ullman lived and worked inside that rising culture of technology, and in Life in Code she tells the continuing story of the changes it wrought with a unique, expert perspective.

When Ellen Ullman moved to San Francisco in the early 1970s and went on to become a computer programmer, she was joining a small, idealistic, and almost exclusively male cadre that aspired to genuinely change the world. In 1997 Ullman wrote Close to the Machine, the now classic and still definitive account of life as a coder at the birth of what would be a sweeping technological, cultural, and financial revolution.

Twenty years later, the story Ullman recounts is neither one of unbridled triumph nor a nostalgic denial of progress. It is necessarily the story of digital technology’s loss of innocence as it entered the cultural mainstream, and it is a personal reckoning with all that has changed, and so much that hasn’t.”

Publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2017
ISBN 9780374534516, 0374534519
viii+306 pages
via andre

Video talk (54 min, 2017)

Reviews: J.D. Biersdorfer (New York Times, 2017), Jessica Bennett (Elle, 2017).