A People's History of Computing in the United States

A People's History of Computing in the United States

by Joy Lisi Rankin


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Silicon Valley gets all the credit for digital creativity, but this account of the pre-PC world, when computing meant more than using mature consumer technology, challenges that triumphalism.

The invention of the personal computer liberated users from corporate mainframes and brought computing into homes. But throughout the 1960s and 1970s a diverse group of teachers and students working together on academic computing systems conducted many of the activities we now recognize as personal and social computing. Their networks were centered in New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Illinois, but they connected far-flung users. Joy Rankin draws on detailed records to explore how users exchanged messages, programmed music and poems, fostered communities, and developed computer games like The Oregon Trail. These unsung pioneers helped shape our digital world, just as much as the inventors, garage hobbyists, and eccentric billionaires of Palo Alto.

By imagining computing as an interactive commons, the early denizens of the digital realm seeded today’s debate about whether the internet should be a public utility and laid the groundwork for the concept of net neutrality. Rankin offers a radical precedent for a more democratic digital culture, and new models for the next generation of activists, educators, coders, and makers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674970977
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 10/08/2018
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Joy Lisi Rankin is a Contributing Editor for Lady Science. She is also a consultant for the documentaries The Birth of BASIC and The Queen of Code and for the television show Girls Code. Rankin was an Exchange Scholar at MIT while earning her doctorate in History from Yale University, as well as a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Prior to entering the academy, she had a successful career launching educational programs for students of all ages, which took her around the country. Her website is joyrankin.com.

Table of Contents

Introduction: People Computing (Not the Silicon Valley Mythology) 1

1 When Students Taught the Computer 12

2 Making a Macho Computing Culture 38

3 Back to Basics 66

4 The Promise of Computing Utilities and the Proliferation of Networks 106

5 How The Oregon Trail Began in Minnesota 139

6 Plato Builds a Plasma Screen 166

7 Plato's Republic (or, the Other Arpanet) 193

Epilogue: From Personal Computing to Personal Computers 228

Notes 245

Bibliography 295

Acknowledgments 311

Index 315

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