July 1996

Root Page of Article: The Wired World According to Women, by Leslie Regan Shade

Cultural Constructions of Computing

"Men surf the net the way suburban women of the 1950s and 1960s used the telephone: as a way to break out of isolation" (p. 10), Ellen Ullman declares in the first essay of the collection, "Come In, CQ: The Body on the Wire." Akin to the suburbanization of hi-tech campuses, typically ensconced near freeway exits or within edge cities, our post- Millennium software "factories" with the attendant Microserfs encourages a level of social uniformity. Ullman discusses how "the search for electronic companionship has become a sexy idea," particularly for male engineers, who find that the Internet "represents an improvement on the daily life in the group alias."

In contrast, she finds that women engineers "codeswitch," changing modes of communication from the online to the personal. (Indeed, I've found out that more women seem to be truly capable of multi-tasking activities at the same time, including work-related tasks to the more mundane domestic stuff). Ullman segues from these thoughts into a melancholy love story nurtured by e-mail, where the pearsonalization of the computerized life is emphasized by the body in the machine; and where computers and the act of programming seem to take on almost an animistic aura.

In "How Hard Can It Be?" Karen Coyle dissects the machismo of computing as reflected in system design, hardware, and advertising. She argues that in order for women to avoid being "road kill on the information highway," we need to recognize, and call attention to, the social myths surrounding computing and the emergent information infrastructure.

Still another angle on the cultural construction of computing is offered by Netta Gilboa, who publishes Gray Area , a magazine that examines subculture issues. In "Elites, Lamers, Narcs and Whores," she discusses the computer underground and the culture of hackers. Because she is so intrinsically involved with this milieu, Gilboa strongly recommends the deployment of PGP, Pretty Good Privacy, an encryption program.

And finally, in "The Memoirs of a Token: An Aging Berkeley Feminist Examines Wired", Paulina Borsook offers a hilarious look at Wired Magazine, the Digital Bible of the Techno-Libertarian Set (and a staple for bathroom reading). Borsook's work has appeared in Wired, but her travails as a woman and her attempts to inject some "women's content" (i.e., profiles of females in the tech field) has been both frustrating and illustrative of the general male-mindedness (assuming pro- market and techno-gadgetry fetishism is indicative of this) that the magazine espouses. --

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