Open thread to catch up on comments–building on the Desk Set from class, or other issues around gender and early computer culture.
I could burn two hundred words on the blatant sexism of the article but frankly, it’s not worth the time since everyone else has covered it four times. On the subject, I’ll just say this: the article is from an issue of Cosmo magazine from 1967, of course it’s going to be sexist. Attitudes were different then and, by my own opinion, idiotic. We can’t change the past, all we can do is learn from it and try to do better now.
As for the rest of my response, I will try examining at the article as a pop article about computing and the computer industry in general in 1967. The article describes an America that has gotten used to the idea of computers in general, but one were they have not become second nature to the population yet.
One one hand, the article doesn’t waste any time explaining what a computer is and what is does, signifying that the magazines readership at least has a general clue about them. In several places in the article, computer slang is used without explanation. “Debugging” for example, appears on page 3.
On the other hand, the article does call computers “miracle machines” and treats them as if they are some unknowable magic understood only by genius engineers and mathematicians. This is a stark contrast to the computer’s familiar central place in current times.
One thing I thought was interesting was how despite all its advances, the computer industry never seems to change. Company representatives in the article mention the difficulty in finding capable, computer-savvy personnel to fill job positions, the same headache that many executives in silicon valley and beyond complain of today.
The articles started with statistics about wages, which misdirects the readers to the assumption this articles is about the money aspect of its subject, woman’s job. As we follow the path, we will see some really negative ideas coming out from the text. This paper actually encourages the idea of sexism where female was treated unfairly compare to male. What funny is the misconception the articles trying to create where the difficult jobs such as “telling the miracle machines what to do and how to do it” are too hard for women that “it doesn’t sound like woman’s work”. Why would you have an idea that being a computer scientist is not an appropriate job for woman? It is certainly not that exhausting compare to being a factory worker or even bank clerk or nurses or teachers, which women were usually associated with. It, however, requires some systematic thinking and that may be what the society thought woman is lacking.
The articles, though not clearly shown the encouragement, tells us about the extreme sexism happened during that age. There is an association where boys are reprimanded if their arithmetic grade is bad while girls are not. It is emphasized that “as long as she can figure out the bank balance and tote up the grocery bill, she’ll be all right” which is a disdain to women because by saying so, the society has already tied women to being a housewife, only knowing how to take care of the family’s money and buying grocery for meal. Another similar story is most of the sexists would address the unfairness where boys can’t wear dresses while girls can wear trousers. This association and its impact on our behaviors indicate the direction of power. The minoritized group can emulate the dominant group because in doing so they are emulating the higher status group and thus gain status; but the dominant group does not emulate the minoritized group because they are emulating the lower status group and thus lose status. This is why women wear pants as well as dresses but men do not wear dresses as well as pants (there has been a small resurgence of kilts for men in alternative subculture, but these kilt are acceptable because they are masculinized by their association with ancestry and battle). Men who order cosmopolitans or other “fruity” drinks risk ridicule (because fruit is gendered female). This is an illustration of how powerful gender roles, unequal power, and marketing are in shaping our everyday “choices”, from the clothes you wear to the job you do.
A major theme throughout the piece “When Computers Were Women” is the idea of subtle sexism. Subtle sexism is a branch of sexism that seems so regular to us, that it goes almost unrecognized. Because of this, it is almost never addressed and continues to be an issue in our nation. The sexism explored in this document is displayed in the article “The Computer Girls” and includes specific wordings, phrases and sentences that were truly awful. These sentences and phrases were used to undermine the intelligence of the work the women were doing and the women themselves. For example, it was noted that “A good programmer doesn’t read more into a problem than is already there.” This is an example of subtle sexism because although it is not completely obvious or blunt in its wording, the sentence still is insulting towards women in that it suggests women will not think about the work they do. This sentence suggests that women will not or perhaps can not think deeply about the work they do, and instead blindly accept the instructions given to them by their male superiors. Even the mindset in which Lois Mandel portrays typical parenting when it came to math grades was incredibly sexist. For example, Mandel explains it is often believed that mathematics is not feminine and little girls should not be expected to learn arithmetic beyond the “bank balance” and “grocery bill”. Although Mandel encourages the girls to explore mathematics more thoroughly, it is not because she believes they can make breakthroughs in the scientific and mathematical fields. Instead she points to the opportunities to make money and meet men. Her comments about men bring up another form of subtle sexism.
Mandel’s comments when it came to men were very sexist. For example, she comments on the ability to meet men in computer work, and explains the staggering statistics. “The field is overrun with males,” Mandel explains when trying to show how easy it is to find a man. In addition, she quotes one computer industry man as saying “We like having the girls around… They’re prettier than the rest of us.” These are more forms of both subtle and blatant sexism. Mandel here shows she does not think that women are important factors in the computer industry by encouraging them to get involved not to make progress in the field, but to possibly find a husband. The man she quotes is more blatant in his sexism. He clearly does not value nor recognize the skills women may have to offer in the world of computers.
The two documents on women in the computer industry clearly show how prominent sexism was in the 1940s. Yet sexism is still a very prominent issue today. Psychologist Madeline E. Heilman of New York University describes modern subtle sexism in this way: “The issue is: men and women are probably behaving exactly the same but women are taking a hit.” This description is incredibly accurate. An example of this is the idea of having children and a job. If a man has children and is dedicated to his work, he is seen as a hero- devoting his life towards working for his kids to have a better future. Yet when a woman becomes a mother, she is expected to dedicate her life to her child. To do this, a mother is often expected to give up her career. Working mothers are often looked down upon and blamed for issues their children may have in the future. Another example of subtle sexism comes in the form of dating. If a nerdy guy asks a beautiful girl on a date and she rejects him, people believe it is because the girl is shallow and mean. Yet if a nerdy girl asks a good-looking guy on a date, he may reject her because she seems “desperate”. In both examples, men and women are acting in the exact same ways, yet are viewed and judged differently for their actions. This is subtle sexism.
The article mostly spoke about the unfair portrayal of women in modern science. Eckert and Mauchly are given full credit for the invention of the ENIAC while the 200 women that helped received little to no credit. The most interesting part of the reading for me was the fact that women were so integral to the field of mathematics. Popular history asserts that women were relegated to the home or more menial jobs, though this finding goes against popular belief. I would think that at least in modern times that more articles would be devoted to discussing women’s role to science and engineering at the time for the field of computing seems far before its time.
The article reminded me of the story of Rosalind Franklin and her contributions to the discovery of DNA. Franklin was a researcher interested in the fields of biology and chemistry. She was actually the one who took the famous picture 51 and sent it to Watson and Crick who then won the Nobel Peace Prize for discovering the structure of DNA. Franklin for her efforts was given the honor of being a footnote in the magazine that published Watson and Crick’s work.
While the article itself didn’t speak about data, it touched upon the larger theme of the importance of data. Without archives or historians examining them, many still unsung heroes would be totally forgotten. Cultures change dramatically, and as a result history needs to be reexamined to incorporate new ideals and values. The article is not only historically valuable, but speaks on contemporary issues. At my time in Northeastern, I have met one female computer science major. It is ironic that a field that was practically pioneered by women now has a scarcity of women. Engineering too seems to be more male oriented as well, and society as a whole needs to start addressing why these cultural norms exist.
The concept of a “memex” as described by Vannevar Bush was quite a modern concept for the time. Although computers existed, Bush looked towards a future in which a type of personal computer existed. Though the computers of his time worked by indexing, he suggested the usage of association to index the massive amounts of data that could be stored in computers. This would thus allow a person to keep their entire libraries on their “memex” machines, and create “trails” between different articles or books. The trails could link similar concepts as seen in different documents, and would thus lead to a catalog based upon association. These trails would never fade and could provide key links between different source materials. Bush also described the trend of repetitive data in some cases and a lack of acknowledgement of data in other cases. By creating trails, a person could see the links between different sources, which could then end the large amounts of lost or repetitive thoughts and ideas.
Although the way in which Bush described the processes that the memex was designed for, I thought the most interesting part of both essays was the physical description of the machine. Bush decided that a memex machine would appear to be a normal desk. Yet on top of the desk would be slanting translucent screens, onto which material would be projected. The desk would have a keyboard and a series of different levers and buttons. Because computers were so massive at the time, Bush’s description may have seemed unrealistic. Yet what he described is incredibly similar to (somewhat) modern day desktop computers. Although a modern desktop would have a mouse instead of many levers, it would be very similar otherwise to what Bush described. For example, a desktop from the early 2000s would have a computer monitor (which is similar to the screens Bush described) and a large case that may house a disc drive, hard drive, power supply, and other important components. The case would be similar to the inside of the “desk” of the memex that Bush described. Both would house the inner workings of the machines and thus are very similar in many aspects.
The similarities observed between Bush’s memex and desktop computers are important because it seems as though Bush’s ideas influenced the manufacturing of computers. Bush’s ideas seem to advocate for the manufacturing of computers for the common man. He did not strive for huge calculating machines, but wanted instead a machine that would allow a more common man to process massive amounts of data without having to learn difficult coding or indexing techniques. The compact design of the memex also suggests it may be used in a home or in an office for a regular person. In this way, Bush’s ideas were incredibly important in the marketing and development of computers.
1) Overarching reiteration
This part comprises a diagnosis on the cause of humans’ “ineptitude in getting at the record”. The diagnoiss will be rooted on my previous responses.
As Bush denotes, human mind intrinsically works by association. This corroborates the term I have defined as puerile cognizance*: associative processing of data that is the internal dynamics of learning. Therefore, puerile cognizance is handled as the only basis through which human mind interacts with external world.
Bush conclusively denotes that current means of ordering are constructed artificially and are not compatible with associative thinking (hence puerile cognizance). Though, it still was the human mind which devised such inefficient taxonomies, and -per definition- these taxonomies were outputs of data acquired by puerile cognizance. Thus, if puerile cognizance is the default basis of learning and inefficient taxonomies are default outcomes of this learning process, why is human mind internally working against itself?
I have provided a speculation to answer this in my second Foucault response, which did not delineate any practical utilities of the conjectured answer. To reiterate the answer, human mind seeks a static state of cerebral potency, and for this stasis, new information -captured by puerile cognizance- would be detrimental as it would debunk the presumed state of solipsism. (For more information on how this was deduced, the response can be read.) To achieve this state of solipsist cerebral potency, human mind seeks to formulate taxonomies which comprise possible form of data that may be gleaned in a further time. If the mind then abides by these taxonomies, it can assert itself to be in a state of (pseudo-)omniscience, by noting how the new data was already considered previous by its (the mind’s) taxonomy hence itself.
These taxonomies of pseudo-omniscience, then, as explained above, used to stifle and unconsidered association, or input, puerile cognizance would convey to the mind.
Therefore, the reason of what Bush calls as artificial taxonomies is this aim of cerebral potency. The inefficiency of most of human processing is this aim of power in mind which has the ultimate goal of reaching omniscience. Hence, the practical utility that I ascribe to this speculation of mine is that human must, collectively, seek to transcend this notion of power.
2) Memex to override omniscience
Among his utterly accurate prognoses, Bush denotes how human is not seeking to promote utilities for human mind, as memex, and is merely endeavoring for absolute explication of universe (given with the example of investigation on moon in text). I correlate this to the previously explained cause of seeking cerebral potency. Human, with the aim of absolute explication seeks, seeks omniscience, and such has been the proclivity of erudites in previous eras, as with the aim of becoming polymath that we discussed in first classes. I also posit that, in sharp contrast, this aim has been mitigated in our era, and the sole cause of this is introduction of memex (general term; computers for intellectual aid). Hence, memex overrides this aim of omniscience.
The means through which memex overrides (aim of) omniscience is that it promotes the pragmatic utility of even the most trifling information. In applicable ordering and associative access, known and disregarded information -as the traits of bows given in the text- can be compiled or induced into theories that conclusively can be immersed into daily discourses of analytic investigations. Then, for both of these aims, the absolute explication of universe becomes discarded by default as the larger community accedes with the reutilization of information in minute accessibility. Absolute explication, omniscience, hence, is reduced into triviality by memex.
Since this promotion of previously trivial information could have been adopted by community, why has the aim of omniscience, then, been permitted to overshadow reutilization of trivial information in the first place -to an extent which conclusively required the introduction of memex for amendment? The answer to this would be the lack of the applicable community to consolidate the pragmatic reutilizations. The ones who successfully progressed in satisfying cerebral potency, omniscience, had not met the opposition of the ones who failed to acquire this potency. Therefore, due to lack of hindrance, these artificial systems of indexing proliferated and immersed themselves into self-perpetuation.
Igo’s thesis is that modern surveying methods have caused an American society to create such ideas as “mainstream culture,” “public opinion,” and “normal sexuality.” She followed her thesis by examining three important surveys of the 20th century: Lynd’s study of Muncie, which meant to represent “typical” American; George Gallup and Elmo Roper’s public opinion polls, which were understood to represent the thoughts of an “average” American, and Alfred Kinsey, whose surveys purposed to uncover “normal” sexuality.
In the Lynd’s example, Igo shows us factors, no matter they are intentional or unconscious, can led to the simplification of a messy reality. The influence of the new social scientific studies, Igo suggests, became manifest when they sought to represent the abstract notion of “the American people” in their samples. The authors of these studies envisioned an America that was—like themselves—white, Anglo Saxon, and Protestant. They drew up their samples accordingly. In my opinion, Middletown was rather a community they (the surveyors) wished for than real. Muncie had an appreciable African-American community, but this society was not included in the analysis. Lynd’s excluded African Americans and immigrants in his survey, so his “typical American community” in fact represented only a white, native-born community.
What I found most interesting about “The Averaged American” by Sarah Igo is something she rarely addresses head-on in the book. In both the Middletown average-American section and the polling and surveying section, accounts abound of corners cut by the pollsters and researchers. One corner in particular provides a fascinating look at the culture of the times: the underplaying, avoidance and downright omission of racial and ethnic minorities in surveys and studies of the ‘average’ population.
It is not difficult to understand why the surveyors made these choices. Social mores and climate are incredibly powerful, and the institutionalized racism and WASP-centrism of the period are matters of record. Moral or immoral, the social scientists involved would have had more trouble than perhaps their results were worth to include all demographics in their studies. However, the collision of logical science and illogical discrimination must necessarily produce some cognitive dissonance. The polls would not have been a direct agent of social change, but anyone who paid attention to the system would have seen racism (so often swept under the rug) thrown into sharp relief. Voting rights are an excellent example: African-Americans, technically eligible to vote under the Fifteenth Amendment, were marginalized and disenfranchised in many states. Any pollster or poll viewer would have been forced to face this fact directly and take steps to ignore it – thus facing their own acceptance of the situation. This forced facing-up-to of social issues is an unavoidable consequence of scientific examination of the populace – for better or worse.
All in all, the Averaged American is a fascinating look at the transitional period between the late industrial and early atomic ages through the lenses of the new fields of large scale of mass marketing and mass polling. I was particularly interested in how it’s possible that the practices had unintended effects.
For example, when writing about Dewey’s defeat by Truman and the blow that it was to the young field of national political polling, the books mentions simplifications and assumptions made by polling organizations that led to their disastrously incorrect prediction. Among these was the marginalization or otherwise ignoring of blacks and other minorities. While pollsters saw this as evidence that their methods needed tweaking, the larger lesson learned is that minorities and the poor could not be ignored by politicians, this conclusion has a large impact on the later social security and civil rights movements.
Another interesting point the author of the book mentions is the idea that surveying and publishing the results of mass information gathering actually changes how people think and behave. During the election, it was feared that polls reporting that one candidate had a lead would increase his popularity due to the bandwagon effect.
As a whole, the transition from regional focused data collection to the national level was one of the large factors that contributed to the modern world. I believe that this change, although I’m sure some will disagree, was another inevitable stage in the general global trend towards bigness (big business, big government, big media etc.) brought on by the introduction of technology into day to day life. This process, which began in earnest in the mid 1700’s and continues today, has completely done away with the way that everything was for thousands of years. The Industrial revolution brought mass production, the imperial age developed mass government, and the decades of the cold war were shaped by mass media and mass marketing.
Some interesting points, current trends in the development production technology, which focus on the efficient creation of highly customized products, suited to individual consumers, signal a radical departure from the fordistic past, which sought to create one design that could be sold to anyone and everyone.
Additionally, the centralization of popular culture into just few record companies and film studios has led to a backlash in society. A movement has developed in music and the arts which rejects what is popular or mainstream simply because it is so. This movement, spearheaded by the “hipster” subculture and its derivatives, rejects traditional pillars of media like Hollywood and New York in favor of local, independent artists.
Whether these trends are a sign of things to come, or just bumps on the road to a more homogeneous world, remains to be seen.