“No single computer changed the world, but computer pain has changed us all”: This week, as we wrap up a third consecutive semester experienced online more than in person, we feature a recent publication by alum Laine Nooney (MA ’06) on the embodied history of computing.
As Nooney explains in “How the Personal Computer Broke the Human Body” (Vice, 12 May 2021),
To consider the history of computing through the lens of computer pain is to center bodies, users, and actions over and above hardware, software, and inventors. This perspective demands computer history to engage with a world beyond the charismatic object of computers themselves, with material culture, with design history, with workplace ethnography, with leisure studies. […] But this is not just a move about getting away from the usual suspects of computer history. It is also about going towards something — in our case, an expanded knowledge of the relationship between the body and the many constructed environments it occupies, between who had the freedom to build their world and who was saddled with enduring it. As is so often the case, those who did the enduring were women, and in many cases, specifically, women of color.
In lively prose that balances archival research with cultural analysis, Nooney presents us with “a decades-long drama between body and machine which, once uniquely gendered, has spiraled out to the populace at large”: “Probably not since the automobile has there been a technology that is so insistently reorganized how we use our bodies in day-to-day practice — and the long arc of these transformations are still being played out.”
Nooney’s research provides us with a genealogy for our current — and often painful — relationship between our bodies and our technologies: “Computer-related pain, and the astounding efforts humans went to (and continue to, go to), to alleviate it, manage it, and negotiate it, provide one thread through the question of how the computer became personal.”
We last had the opportunity to visit with Laine Nooney in September 2013 for a lecture on women and video game culture, part of Ph.D. research at Stony Brook University. A post-doc and two tenure-line positions later, Nooney is now an Assistant Professor of Media Industries at New York University, specializing in historical, cultural, and economic analysis of the video game and computer industries, tweeting regularly at @Sierra_OffLine.
Our thanks to Laine Nooney for these insights on how we live now — and we look forward to learning more in the months ahead!
— Karin Westman, Department Head