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It showed a massive, wall-sized computer, with hundreds of blinking lights, ejecting a tiny paper card with a red heart on it for its operator, who was dwarfed by the computer’s hulking form.The drawing of the computer was supposedly based on the huge SSEC (Selective Sequence Electronic Calculator) mainframe that IBM had shown off in its Madison Avenue showroom in New York City from 1948-1952.The article connects this history to other examples in the history of technology that show how technological systems touted as “revolutionary” often help entrenched structural biases proliferate rather than breaking them down.The article also upsets the notion that computer dating systems can simply be understood as a version of the “boys and their toys” narrative that has dominated much of computing history.Today, the idea of being matched with a potential romantic partner via computer has been normalized to the point of seeming quotidian.In the early days of computer dating, however, machine-mediated romantic interactions were often considered untoward or slightly shocking, for reasons similar to the ones that kept women from working alongside men at night.It explores the mid-twentieth century origins of computer dating and matchmaking in order to argue for the importance of using sexuality as a lens of analysis in the history of computing.Doing so makes more visible the heteronormativity that silently structures much of our technological infrastructure and helps bring other questions about gender, race, and class into the foreground.
For Valentine’s Day, 1961, the cartoonist Charles Addams—of Addams Family fame—drew a futuristic cover for the New Yorker.
The operators who made this possible in the Anglo-American world tended to be women.
The machines, on the other hand, were coded as masculine and aligned with the male innovators who designed them.
But the reason that it was making an appearance on the cover of the New Yorker almost a decade later had less to do with the specific computer in question, and more to do with what computer technology was coming to represent by the early 1960s: a potential challenge to the capacities and talents of human beings. By the early 1960s, mainframes had crept into the popular consciousness through news reports and advertising.
They were still poorly understood by the public at large, and many people were unsure about what these new machines could actually do, as well as what sorts of tasks they should do.
By the 1960s, popular discourse on technological change highlighted concerns that computers would eventually take over most intellectual tasks, and perhaps even more than that. The flip side of these fears about what computers might do was the fact that early computers still required an enormous amount of labor in order to successfully and completely run programs.