The Intimate Life of Computers

The Intimate Life of Computers

Digitizing Domesticity in the 1980s

Reem Hilu

A feminist perspective on the early history of personal computing, revealing how computers were integrated into the most intimate aspects of family life

240 Pages, 6 x 9 in

  • Paperback
  • 9781517916657
  • Published: November 19, 2024
BUY
  • Hardcover
  • 9781517916640
  • Published: November 19, 2024
BUY

Details

The Intimate Life of Computers

Digitizing Domesticity in the 1980s

Reem Hilu

ISBN: 9781517916657

Publication date: November 19th, 2024

240 Pages

15 black and white illustrations

8 x 5

"Expertly researched and persuasively argued, The Intimate Life of Computers provides an essential cultural history tracing the intersections between computers and interpersonal and familial relationships during a time when family and domestic life were in flux." —Alice Leppert, author of TV Family Values: Gender, Domestic Labor, and 1980s Sitcoms

 

"In The Intimate Life of Computers, Reem Hilu shows how computer history is—and must be—feminist history. Tracking the emergence of ‘companionate computing’ across long-forgotten games, dolls, and robots, Hilu takes seriously the personal in personal computing, connecting choices in software and hardware design to conflicts over gender roles, sexuality, parenting, and childhood in 1980s America. Exquisitely researched and thoughtfully written, The Intimate Life of Computers is at once an engaging cultural history of the weird 1980s and a demand that we account for how conflicts around gender continue to shape digital technologies today." —Jonathan Sterne, author of Diminished Faculties, MP3, and The Audible Past

 


A feminist perspective on the early history of personal computing, revealing how computers were integrated into the most intimate aspects of family life

 

The Intimate Life of Computers shows how the widespread introduction of home computers in the 1980s was purposefully geared toward helping sustain heteronormative middle-class families by shaping relationships between users. Moving beyond the story of male-dominated computer culture, this book emphasizes the neglected history of the influence of women’s culture and feminist critique on the development of personal computing despite women’s underrepresentation in the industry.

 

Proposing the notion of “companionate computing,” Reem Hilu reimagines the spread of computers into American homes as the history of an interpersonal, romantic, and familial medium. She details the integration of computing into family relationships—from helping couples have better sex and offering thoughtful simulations of masculine seduction to animating cute robot companions and giving voice to dolls that could talk to lonely children—underscoring how these computer applications directly responded to the companionate needs of their users as a way to ease growing pressures on home life.

 

The Intimate Life of Computers is a vital contribution to feminist media history, highlighting how the emergence of personal computing dovetailed with changing gender roles and other social and cultural shifts. Eschewing the emphasis on technologies and institutions typically foregrounded in personal-computer histories, Hilu uncovers the surprising ways that domesticity and family life guided the earlier stages of our all-pervasive digital culture.

Reem Hilu is assistant professor of film and media studies at Washington University in St. Louis.