[Air-l] PCs were invented in 1968

Willard Uncapher willard at well.com
Sun Sep 12 14:28:39 PDT 2004

At 01:26 PM 9/11/2004, you wrote:
>Yup, that's what a student in my first class (Tech & Society) told me. I
>forget if it was by John, Paul, Ringo or George.
>The comment made me realize that I should include in the syllabus a potted
>article on the history of computing, from Einiac to Pentiums and wireless.

Picking up a parallel thread to exploring computer history - I have been 
incensed, if I might put it in those terms, at the lack of interest in most 
communications research programs on the general topic of communications 
history.  Indeed, the lack of understanding on these issues by my students 
is so profound that I find it almost impossible, or at least improbable to 
move forward on others issues.  I would generalize that the understanding 
of history in general is becoming erratic, a factor that plays into various 
know-nothing political stances these days.  For instructors like myself who 
have very little say in what courses are taught in the departments with 
which I am affiliated, this great lack of understanding on both the faculty 
as well as the students I think presents a great theoretical hole in not 
only Internet Studies, but in communication research in general. (I am 
doing a little study on this right now, not that I know where such research 
might be welcome).

I am teaching a course on 'computer mediated communication' right now, with 
over half the class consisting of graduate students in communication.  Now 
I wanted to contextualize the development of the computer into the larger 
developments of comm history. Indeed, I like to think about the question as 
to whether the development of the Internet and CMC during the later 20th 
century was 'revolutionary' or 'evolutionary' or what. I want to make sure 
that we wouldn't be too quick to jump on techno-determinist or 
cultural-determinist ideological camps, and to see how the impact of new 
media can reflect, play into, and influence contemporary 
techno-communicational developments.

Ok. Computers in 1968, Barry?  I asked my students when Gutenberg developed 
his revolutionary iteration of the printing press - and not only could not 
a single student tell me within a 100 years, but the answers were simply 
astonishing (1700!).  Dates of the larger developments in comm history, 
even from a Euro-centric perspective were not forthcoming. What little comm 
history they did know was related to mass media (there were some grunts of 
acknowledgement when I asked about the penny press, but not much 
understanding when I mentioned the telegraph as the beginning of the 
global, electronic, network society).  The same was true as I talked about 
the history of the discipline itself: Paul Lazersfeld, who's he?  Indeed, 
not one of my students had heard of Marshall McLuhan (and how could they in 
a traditional media course?). My course on CMC, which I had planned as only 
exploring the state of the field since 9/11 and the dot.com bust is now 
spending a lot more time setting up an understanding of the media world 
even before Turing, von Neuman, etc.  Indeed more contemporary historical 
awareness - for example, the complete lack of awareness bout the existence 
or promise of the Whole Earth Catalog - can be so lacking that a question 
about the inter-relation of the WECatalog, the California Ideology, the 
Sharing economies, and the rise of the WEB invite confusion. However, I 
don't see resources out there to address this problem. Sigh.


Willard Uncapher, Ph.D. / Network Emergence / 8706 Kendall Court, Arvada, 
CO 80003
mailto:nwu1 at columbia.edu / http://www.well.com/user/willard  

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