Last week I attended the annual meeting of SHOT [Society for the History of Technology] in Copenhagen, Denmark. Copenhagen was a blast--I smartly arrived a few days early to wander and sightsee, so by the time the conference rolled around I was tired and happy to sit all day. Highlights include befriending an amazing crew of history of science/history of tech grad students, meeting Eden Medina, author of Cybernetic Revolutionaries--a work of transnationalist computer history!--and Marie Hicks, who also works on gender and computing, and was an all around a welcoming good sport. Oh yes, and I spoke with Ruth Schwartz Cowen for a hot minute! All in all, a satisfying affair despite the horrors on coach-class international air travel.
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I began to curiously roll these images over in my head alongside the new lolz-worthy fad disease I'd recently encountered, "Text-Neck", a malady so virulent it has spawned its own Institute and has actually received some semi-legit coverage in the news. The Text Neck Institute reports Text Neck as "world-wide health concern, affecting millions of all ages and from all walks of life. Widespread overuse of handheld mobile technology is resulting in a harmful and dangerous physical condition on the human body."
I like the bookending of these neck phenomena. 100 years divide these conditions, but the latter performs a wry inversion of the former: whereas the motif at the turn of the 20th century was to "look up!", we are now all accustomed to the roving hordes of sensorially-divided pedestrians who can do little but "look down" at their multimedia universes (a daily hazard when navigating NYC on foot, bike or car). The distinction between the two might indeed be a quality of distraction--whereas something about the sublimity of early flight makes me believe that the attention paid to an overhead plane would be rapt, complete, uninterrupted, the negotiating of texting in urban space is always one of divided attention--of eyes trained on the screen but peripheral vision "looking out!", ears cued for bike bells and car horns, and our embodied routines dispatching haptic data on how far we are to our destination.
Indeed, it seems one could write the history of technology through a history of bodily re-figuration. Aviation and Text Neck recall to me the list of maladies Lynn Spigel cites briefly in Make Room for TV--concerns over eyestrain, cancer, and malocclusion, an abnormal arrangement of teeth from cradling the jaw in the hand when watching TV from the floor (p. 3). Closer to my heart, I'm gathering images, models and ergonomic data on the computational body--i.e. the body at the computer. From carpel tunnel syndrome to a rash of hysteria in the early 80s that computer terminals were causing miscarriages and glaucoma, part of my diss explores the ergonomics, embodiment and furniture of home computing. If I submit to SHOT for 2013 (and I surely will!) it will be to present upon and unpack these "wristories" (I know, I'm awful).