I listened to a podcast over a year ago that profiled this book. The author of the book talked about some of the themes and people profiled in the book. I'd been wanting to read it ever since but I'm lazy and just never got around to it. Maybe not just lazy but cheap too. Finally, I saw it at the library and I still didn't check it out. I already had 5 books I was checking out and I'd just come back to it later.
Later finally arrived. I checked it out a couple days before a snow storm hit. It's January and stuff like that happens. Perfect. It isn't like I'm going to be leaving the house much so I was certain I could knock out this book in that time.
I expected the chapters on Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper. They've received a lot of attention lately. I was familiar with Jaimie Levy because of the podcast. However, there was a lot of people and topics I wasn't familiar with.
There is much to say when it comes to women in technology, more or less the lack of women in those fields. I see and hear stuff about that a lot. I've read the ridiculous assertions that women just aren't interested, or are biologically not equipped to do high level programming, engineering, mathematics or web/software development. Frankly, it's all bullshit. Women are more than capable and can excel at a high level. I probably could have too if I didn't fall for the, "I'm not good at math", bull shit that I told myself once I became a teenager.
Let me look back to my childhood. I'm a woman and was once a little girl. Duh. I liked reading books on space exploration. I wanted to be an astronaut. I was interested in science and it was one of my favorite subjects. I was even good at math. I looked back to some report cards from elementary school and some of my best grades were in math. My dad liked technology and I played video games on the Atari and Intellivision. We had an Atari 400 that I played on. When my mom started taking college courses around 1986, she bought an Apple IIc. I played on that a lot too. We had a Print Shop and Paint programs and I loved those. I'd print out stuff on the old dot-matrix printer. I'd play games too.
At the same time my mom was taking classes learning various computer softwares like Lotus and some banking software. She even took a basic computer programming class. She learned some BASIC too.
Around 1993-94 we got a PC - some cheap 486. Maybe an Acer? I used that a lot for school. I played games like Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?, Myst, and others. I begged my mom to let me join AOL. She let me. I had to take the kitchen phone off the jack and I ran the cable from the bedroom into the kitchen. It would take forever to log in. I mostly just chatted and posted on discussion forums because trying to pull up a webpage took forever. My time was limited. However, eventually AOL was taken away from me after I started connecting through a long distance connection and a $200 phone bill was mailed to my mom. That was also around the time I got a job. I had to pay her back. That was probably 1995. After that, I didn't use the internet until my freshman year in college.
It was also around that time I started telling myself I was bad at math, science and all that. I had always had an interest in art and I was going to pursue art and design. I don't know what got into me. I liked art but I think I also wanted to be cool and fit in and being a "computer nerd" wasn't cool. I kept my nerdiness under wraps. I pretended to be a jock and at the same time a bit artsy.
Even when I started using the internet in college, I kept it under wraps. In between classes I liked to play on Usenet newsgroups, read my listserv messages, connect to BBSes. When I figured out how to create a website, I didn't tell anyone. I bought a book, wrote down my code at home, saved to a floppy and took it to school to copy/paste into the GeoCities editor. I figured out how to use Photoshop by scanning pictures from magazines. I ripped a lot off from print. I'm sure there was something illegal about that. I kept a little blog that was all hard coded. Then all the sudden, I quit. I think it was because I thought it wasn't serious and I needed to get more serious about my studies. That was probably by summer of 1997.
From there, I did no coding until I graduated with my MFA in 2005. I fiddled around a lot because a lot had changed. It took a while to catch up. 2011 was around he time I got serious about it again.
Looking back, I was poised to work on websites. I could have started a career on the web in the mid-90s. I wrote it off though. I didn't know or see anyone doing this. I certainly didn't see women doing this. You couldn't major in web development. I could have majored in CIS or MIS but I didn't think I was cut out for it. Again, "I wasn't good at math". It was for guys. What was I thinking?!
I thought the book was really interesting and inspiring. I learned a lot. It also made me think about my place and what I can accomplish.
I thought the stuff on hypertext was interesting because that certainly relates to the web today. However, hypertext has been around for a very long time - way before the world wide web. When Tim Berners-Lee used to to demonstrate what would become the world wide web, the programmers that were working with hypertext for a long time weren't impressed. People had been doing more complex and dynamic things with hypertext. They thought Berners-Lee's contribution was too simple. It just wasn't exciting.
For example, Wendy Hall invented Microcosm hypermedia system in the late 1980s. This built on earlier work by Doug Engelbart and others. It was used as part of research at the University of South Hampton. What it did was keep links separated, in a database that was to be regularly updated and maintained. This database would be made up of documents and other multimedia. This was a "linkbase". These links communicated with documents in that "linkbase". If a new document was added the system would automatically identify words corresponding to links in the "linkbase" and update it accordingly. It was flexible. If you think about it, links on a website aren't that flexible. They break easily. You can only link to one thing with one link.
There were things like Hypercard, made by Apple, in the 1980s that allowed users to connect documents ("cards") that contained anything from text, images and other multimedia in a non-linear fashion but it didn't operate over the internet. I'd describe them as web pages before the web. People like Jamie Levy created e-zines that would be passed around on floppy discs. Her work was much more "punk" and artsy than work by Wendy Hall, whose work was more academic. Eventually Levy would create e-zines on the web and was very creative and pushed many boundaries. It was very innovative from a design and UX perspective.
Other figures that stuck out to me were Elizabeth “Jake” Feinler who was the director of the Network Information Systems Center at the Stanford Research Institute. Her group operated teh NIC for the ARPANET. The NIC provided a reference service to users of the ARPANET, maintained a directory of people ("white pages"), a resource handbook ("yellow pages"), and the protocol handbook. She was basically the Google of it's time. She was instrumental in creating Whois and the Domain Name System (DNS). Her group was the naming authority an also managed the name registries of the top-level domains. I'm sure we're all familiar with those was these are essential to any website today.
Another thing I love about many of these women is that most didn't come from a computer science or engineering background. Many came from all different backgrounds and were thrown into a situation that wasn't developed yet. There was no rule book or map. They just figured it out.
Women have played a big part in creating the web of today. Many have been overshadowed by the superstars and their male colleagues but were no less important. No history of the internet and computing is complete without the contributions of women (or of people of color). Even today many women are doing important work in technology. Women always had a place and will always have a place.
It's not a comprehensive history but it fills in some of the gaps in other history books and materials. If you are interested in learning more about the history of the internet, you should check out the book.
Or go to Amazon but you can search that yourself.