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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.
Source: ICL News, 1970 Paradoxically, the same sexual strictures that hurt women’s employment chances also meant that women were ideal fodder for a new type of computing project.
A growing interest in inserting new electronic computer technology into men and women’s lives as romantic middlemen was beginning to gain momentum.
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.
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 idea that these masculine-identified machines might sexually harass women workers as proxies for real men often figured into jokes and cartoons of the era (see cartoon below).A reminiscence from a worker at LEO, an early British computing company—and the company which created the first dedicated electronic business computer—described how LEO bucked the norm of hiring female operators and hired men instead.Yet, the field of computing history has been slow to integrate sexuality into its historiography or theorize how sexuality plays an important role in computing’s past.The history of computer dating is a good point of entry because it is a topic whose very nature requires a discussion of sexuality.