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Six schemes for encoding the words "United States" via telegraphic messaging. Source: H. Nyquist, “Certain factors affecting telegraph speed,” Bell Syst. Tech. J., Apr. 1924, p. 338.

Computing and Historiography, Part 1

How does the work of building computers relate to the writing of computing history? At first glance, this seems an easy enough thing to describe: Scientists, engineers, and industries invent or innovate while historians and other observers report on these events. This is a more or less linear model of cause and effect, where work with computers is an ostensible “cause” or “source” for writing computer history. But I think this model is so reductive as to be false. It seems to me that the reception or interpretation of computational history is itself a participant in the shaping and consolidation of computational innovation. Recognizing this relation has important consequences for a number of issues in ‘informatics proper’ (design and protection of intellectual property, raising capital, and workplace diversity are three areas I will touch on in coming posts) as well those societies that would like to identify social well being with technological innovation.

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