Women are not ancillary to the history of technology; they turn up at the very beginning of every important wave. But they've often been hidden in plain sight, their inventions and contributions touching our lives in ways we don't even realize-- until now.
Writing a feminist history of technology is in some ways an impossible task ... The trouble with this plan is that people are, and have been, doing all of this work for many, many decades—but it is complicated, and seemingly endless. Overall, Broad Band suffers from exactly this absence of historical consciousness. While it’s tempting, for instance, to think of the stories Evans is telling as part of a lost and now-recovered history, historians and scholars have been working with the same material for decades, and the characters in Broad Band were also known in their time ...It was encouraging and affirming to be in a space dominated by women, a relief. There was so much excitement, so much potential; an element of freedom. I wished that more people could be there to see it.
From COBOL and ARPANET to Silicon Valley and cyberfeminism, women have always played a major role in developing computer technology. Now their collective stories are finally being shared in Evans’ fascinating and inspiring work of women’s history.
To their credit, these women’s stories make Broad Band more intriguing—Silicon Valley desperately needs a counterfactual to the unicorn myth. But this too-often fannish, cheerleading and apologetic book doesn’t make room for assessing merit or debating legacy—a feature we can only hope will come when women innovators proliferate and step off this tricky pedestal. A number of women’s histories were surely green-lighted in the past year, and I hope that more than a few of them will prove themselves timeless. For a historian to focus squarely on her subjects’ works would be a radical act in support of women’s achievement. Until we have such books, it’s hard not to empathize with Ms. Evans’s challenge, as it’s the challenge that many women in technology face daily: How does one celebrate merit, innovation, the elegance of superior code, while also paying homage to the contemporary women’s movement? We are all Ada Lovelace today. Here’s hoping that in future histories we no longer are.