History, it’s said, is told by the ones who win. Which makes me wonder with discomfort why I, an avid reader of technology, never thought about the question of “Where are all the women?” whenever I have read histories of the Internet and technology in the past. Broad Band (The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet), by Claire Evans, sets the record straight, and does so with depth and storytelling. I’m glad to have discovered it.
Evans, a technology reporter, dives in deep to the many women whose work from the very beginning of technology and computers (stretching back to Ada Lovelace’s work with Babbage) paved the way for the way we interact and use the Internet (and other tools) today.
There were women doing the first manual card programming of mainframe computers — the women were called “computers” before a conference of men decided that “computer engineer” was a better term that would allow more recruiting of people into the field, and in doing that change of identity, they effectively shut the door on many women who did have advanced degrees in engineering because of cultural norms around who stays home with the children and who is the primary paycheck in the family.
There were women at the heart of the emergence of video game design, creating games that were built around storytelling and interactive choices, eyeing ways to engage girls in a time when boys were the rage. A section here about marketing of games via gender is fascinating. There were women creating safe social networking spaces before, and then as, the World Wide Web began to take hold, years before MySpace and Facebook and Twitter. There were women who devised the protocols of the Internet data packet transfer systems.
We often hear about The WELL in San Francisco, California, as one of the starting point of community networking, but in the same city, in another building, there was a collective of women with their own mainframe computer, programming it to gather and share resources about social services for families and organizations, as well a place to make connections over modems. Just like the WELL, in some aspects, but RESOURCE ONE was more attuned to the common good of the world. And mostly forgotten. I’d never heard of it.
And on and on it goes, and I appreciate that Evans researched and wrote this kind of book, as a sort of counter-balance to the male narrative of computers and technology. I am appreciative of the design capabilities of these women, and their vision for a more connected and more positive world with technology as another means to an end.
Peace (in the back pages),