April 1998


The New Technoculture

Zeros + Ones: Digital Women + The New Technoculture
Sadie Plant
Doubleday, 1997
ISBN 0-385-48260-4

Reviewed by Leslie Regan Shade

Cyberfeminism, according to Dr. Sadie Plant, research fellow at the University of Warwick, "suggests that there is a an intimate and possibly subversive element between women and machines--especially the new intelligent machines--which are no longer simply working for man as are women no longer simply working for man." In Zeros + Ones: Digital Women + The New Technoculture, Plant elaborates on this theme through a dizzying circuit of perambulations and prognostications, and a cascade of characters which are brought together in a pastiche of entries.

Seeking to examine the history of women in computing as creators, producers, operators, and consumers, Plant rejects one of the popular conceptions of the relationship of women towards computers as an 'anti' stance: technophobic and cautious. Given the embracement of the Net by geekgirls, cybergrrls, and nerdgrrls, Plant's opus fits in nicely with the times.

Plant likens the early history of women and weaving to an intimate comfort with computers. Examining the life of Ada Lovelance daugher of Lord Byron, who wrote a description of Charles Babbage's Difference Engine, Plant observes that she "loved all forms of communication", and that, "at the age of twelve she had entertained hopes of 'writing a book of Flyology illustrated with plates' and told her mother she would 'be able to fly about with all your letters and messages and shall be able to carry them with much more speed than the post or any terrestrial contrivances..." (p. 73)

From the legacy of Ada, to that of the ENIAC Ladies and to Grace Hopper, we see the persistent (but too often hidden) involvement of women in computing.

Given the changing transformation of work and social life because of information technology and the trend towards a 'knowledge based economy', women, Plant contends, are at an advantage. The power of information technology for women is that it lends itself to multiple, independent, and autonomous lifestyles.

The Net, as Plant observes, is not a brave new frontier. Women have always been there: "the roundabout, circuitous connections with which women have always been associated and the informal networking at which they have excelled now become protocols for everyone". (p.144)

Zeros + Ones is not an easy read, but at times, very seductive with Plant's mellifluous voice. I'm waiting for the hypertext version...

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Leslie Regan Shade is currently a part-time professor in the Department of Communications at the University of Ottawa.

Copyright © 1998 by Leslie Regan Shade. All Rights Reserved.


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