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  • Post 2: A question for a classmate about their first post that refers to Learning Materials and is at least 75-100 words long.

Jennifer Booker  

Option 1 

Work Cited 

Miller, D. (2019). Anthropological Studies of Mobile Phones. Technology and Culture, 60(4), 1093-1097. http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/tech.2019.0103

Summary 

      This article is a review of the mobile phone from an anthropological viewpoint. Several books from the anthropologist are mentioned in the article which discusses the effects of the mobile phone when introduce in different cultures. It describes the changes the mobile phones invoked on the people and the wide range of uses for the mobile phone. In addition, the article discusses the supplier of the mobile phones to small cities, towns, or villages. The article details the friendly approaches of the mobile supplier in order to gain the trust of the population of this new product while soley there to generate revenue.  

Approach

       This article takes the approach of technological determinism and social constructivism. Small islands like Mozambique, Samoa, and Papua New Guinea, just to name a few, were introduced to the mobile phone by the corporate company Digicel. The introduction of the mobile phone to these densely populated areas had a wide range of effects. The mobile phone began to reshape their culture.  “One result of this was that we emphasized the way people expanded their social connections. In order just to get by, many Jamaicans without any income tried to find ways to “link-up” with Jamaicans who had some kind of income (Miller, 2019)”, the use of the mobile phone help them make these connections.  Social constructivism come into to play with the mentioning that certain cultures viewed the phone as form of concealment and making things apparent.  An example of this is the use of the phone to “arrange meetings with a lover, the phone seems to make it much easier to make all the requisite arrangements in secret (Miller, 2019).  Another example of social constructivism, this new technology allowed people who were ostracized for health-related illness to feel some type of connection without having to provide anything in return.  “They may find themselves shunned by their kin, but through using random call[1]ing, they can find supportive strangers who give them emotional and prac[1]tical care and don’t ask for money, sex, or pigs in return, unlike family and boyfriends (Miller, 2019).”When Digicel introduced the phone to these areas the used the approach of technological determinism, because they want the phone to reshape the culture. They wanted to replace the use of traveling miles to deliver news or information with the use of a cell phone. Their goal was to help a culture stay more connected to family and friends and reduce the use of long-distance travel.

 In conclusion, this artifact -the mobile phone shaped cultures and allow cultures to shape it.

WC 426

Envisioning Latour 2.0

When the young anthropologist Bruno Latour visited the laboratory at
the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, he famously set aside all of his pre-
conceptions about the goals and behaviors of its inhabitants. Rather than
accept as reality the Salk researchers’ self-interpretation of their collective
enterprise, he carefully observed their day-to-day activities and material
practices and came to his own somewhat startling conclusion. What the
scientists and technicians at Salk spent the greatest part of their day doing,
noticed Latour, was “coding, marking, altering, correcting, reading, and
writing” various forms of documentary material. In this they resembled
nothing so much as a “strange tribe” of “compulsive and manic writers”
whose principal function seemed to be the manufacture of paper docu-
ments. Even their large and expensive experimental instruments acted pri-
marily as “inscription devices,” technologies designed specifically to “trans-
form material substance into a figure or diagram.”1 It was through these
various and repeated acts of inscription and transcription, argued Latour,
that ordinary data was transmuted into scientific fact.

Whatever you might think about Latour’s overall methods and analy-
sis, his close attention to the material practices of scientific knowledge pro-
duction inspired generations of historians and sociologists of science and
technology to take seriously the notion that technique and technology are
epistemologically significant. The tools we use to think with affect the char-

Nathan Ensmenger is an associate professor in the School of Informatics and Comput-
ing at Indiana University. He is currently working on a book that explores the develop-
ment and use of computerized decision technologies in medicine, finance, and public
policy. He is particularly grateful for the contributions to this essay of William Aspray,
Eden Medina, and Suzanne Moon.

©2012 by the Society for the History of Technology. All rights reserved.
0040-165X/12/5304-0001/753–76

1. Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar, Laboratory Life, 48–51.

E S S A Y

The Digital Construction of Technology
Rethinking the History of Computers in Society

N A T H A N E N S M E N G E R

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acter of our thoughts; to write something down is to transform it. The ma-
terial culture of the laboratory is important because experimental instru-
ments are agents in the production of scientific knowledge. It matters who
built these instruments, and how, and for what purposes; it matters how
these instruments are used, and by whom. These are no longer controver-
sial assertions, even outside the narrow confines of the academic literature
on science and technology studies.

Given that the close observation of material practices has proven such
a productive methodology, it is curious how little attention has been paid
within the historical community to the single most widespread and signif-
icant innovation that has occurred within the material culture of the labo-
ratory—and indeed, almost every site of scientific or technoscientific activ-
ity in contemporary society.

Let us imagine, for a moment, that Latour were to return to the Salk In-
stitute of the present to revisit his observations of four decades previous.
There are many things about the institute that would be familiar: the stark
modernism of the Louis Kahn–designed architecture; the academic creden-
tials and distinctions of the research staff and their ambitious young post-
doctoral fellows; the perpetual conversational obsession with publications,
priority, and position. Latour might even recognize some old friends, or at
least familiar faces. And yet there would be one striking and obvious differ-
ence that would be immediately evident: with the possible exception of the
janitorial staff, every single employee of the Salk Institute would spend the
majority of their time each day interacting with a computer screen. From
scientist to secretary, their work would revolve around computer technol-
ogy. Even those operating experimental instruments or other equipment
would do so via a computer-based interface. In fact, to a naive observer, it
might seem as if the designated role of most of the Salk researchers and
technicians was simply to shuffle from one computer screen to another, with
little perceptible differences among the activities engaged in at each loca-
tion. Every room in the institute would contain at least one computer, and
it would be difficult to distinguish between the computers in the rooms des-
ignated as “laboratories” and those labeled as “offices” (whether faculty or
administrative). There would be entire rooms devoted to computers, some
of which would only rarely be visited by human beings. All of the comput-
ers in the institute would be networked to every other, and computers would
serve as the primary means of communication both within the institute and
to the outer world. There would be nary a piece of actual paper in sight—
with the possible exception of the Ph.D. diplomas hanging on the office
walls, which would be as likely to reflect degrees in the fields of computer
science and bioinformatics as in molecular biology.

It might be that our hypothetical Latour version 2.0 would explain
away the pervasive presence of computers and other digital technologies in
the laboratory as simply being the modern incarnation of the inscription

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device. After all, the majority of these technologies would be used, at least
in part, for the creation of digital documents. In fact, the very essence of all
of these machines could be described as being literary, their primary func-
tion being the reading and writing of codes—albeit codes intended to be
read primarily by machines rather than people. Seen from this perspective,
there would be no significant difference, at least in analytical terms, be-
tween the traditional version of a scientific “paper” and its electronic equiv-
alent, or between the tracings on the paper tape of a 1960s-era gas chro-
matograph and the digital representation of the same produced by a more
modern instrument. The larger interpretation of the laboratory would
remain essentially the same, with the computer being merely the most con-
venient contemporary tool available to perform the more timeless and ab-
stract tasks associated with scientific knowledge production.

To dismiss so easily this dramatic transformation of material practice
would, however, run counter to the entire theoretical and methodological
revolution in science studies that Latour himself played such a key role in en-
abling. It would also require him to ignore the visible evidence of another,
perhaps even more profound incorporation of computer technology into
the modern biological laboratory. Scattered across the Salk Institute are
buildings whose very names—the Crick-Jacobs Center for Computational
and Theoretical Biology, the Computational Neurobiology Laboratory, the
Razavi Newman Center for Bioinformatics—bear witness to the centrality of
the computer not just to the production, but to the content of scientific
knowledge. Lily Kay, among others, has documented the ways in which
concepts from computer science and information theory disseminated
throughout the biological sciences in the late twentieth century. It is now
commonplace, for example, to talk about the human genome as a code to be
decrypted, the brain as a neural network, and disease as a “subspecies of in-
formation malfunction or communications pathology.”2 These are not mere
metaphors, but statements about ontology. As the noted biologist Richard
Dawkins described it, “genetics has become a branch of information tech-
nology. The genetic code is truly digital, in exactly the same way as computer
codes. This is not some vague analogy, it is the literal truth.”3 For many work-
ing in the modern biological sciences, living cells are not like computers—
they are computers. While the long-term utility and durability of this com-
putational turn in biology might still be an open question, the existence of
the phenomenon is undeniable. Without presuming to know the mind of
Latour, it seems safe to assume that if he were to repeat his visit to the Salk
Institute, he would both notice and take seriously the transformative power
of the electronic digital computer and its kindred technologies.

2. Lily Kay, “Who Wrote the Book of Life?”; Hunter Crowther-Heyck, “George A.
Miller, Language, and the Computer Metaphor of Mind”; Donna Haraway, “Cyborg
Manifesto”; Cornelius Borck, “Toys Are Us.”

3. Richard Dawkins, “Genetics” (emphasis added).

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The pervasive ubiquity of the computer and the computational mindset
are hardly confined to the Salk Institute or the biological sciences. In the past
several decades, computational models and techniques have transformed
the theory and practice of disciplines as diverse as physics, economics, psy-
chology, linguistics, anthropology, psychology, meteorology, cognitive sci-
ence, and ecology. The dominance of the computer in the practice of engi-
neering has been especially dramatic: until the final stages of production, it
is not unusual for a manufactured good to live an almost entirely virtual
existence. Engineers use computer-aided design tools to construct digital
models, evaluate those digital models using computational techniques like
finite element analysis, and test their performance in virtual environments
via virtual instruments before transmitting their designs in digital form over
electronic networks to computer-controlled machine tools. Many of the
products that these engineers design with computers contain their own
computers embedded within them: microprocessor-based control systems
are used as key components in everything from automobiles to elevators,
from refrigerators to pacemakers, from electronic books to children’s toys.
In fact, there are few technologies, industries, or social practices that have
not been significantly influenced, if not radically transformed, by the incor-
poration of computers and computer-based technologies.

Outside of the academic historical literature, the centrality of the com-
puter to contemporary social, political, and economic life is widely recog-
nized. No technological development of the past century is considered to
be as profoundly influential as the invention of the electronic digital com-
puter. Indeed, in most contemporary contexts, the word “technology” has
come to mean computer technology. When educators advocate for more
technology in the classroom, medical practitioners for more technology in
the hospital, and economists for the development of a more technology-
proficient workforce, they are not talking about filing cabinets, stetho-
scopes, or drill-press operators; what they are calling for is more comput-
ers, computer-based diagnostic systems, and computer-savvy technicians.
There is a vast and growing popular literature on the impact of computer-
ization on almost every aspect of modern society. And while historians of
technology are right to be skeptical of the hyperbole and simplistic deter-
minism that characterizes much of this literature, we also ignore it at our
peril, as David Edgerton has recently suggested.4 By not engaging more
substantially with the technological phenomena that most of our contem-
poraries regard as one of the most consequential of all in human history,
historians of technology run the risk of becoming increasingly irrelevant,
losing our voice in a conversation to which we, of all disciplines, are
uniquely prepared to contribute.

But what exactly does the history of technology have to say to the broad

4. David Edgerton, “Innovation, Technology, or History.”

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range of questions raised by the hegemonic technological, intellectual, and
ideological dominance of computers, computing, and the computational
mindset? Thus far our contributions have largely been confined to the his-
tory of the computer, which is a worthy topic and one that capitalizes on
our traditional strengths of studying engineers, innovation, and industries.
But this focus on the machinery of computation also limits our ability to
speak to larger questions. Consider, for example, the many computers we
noticed earlier in our imagined tour of the Salk Institute: in terms of their
underlying physical architecture they would be essentially identical, com-
modity hardware such as could be purchased anywhere by anyone. But
each of these generic machines would be transformed, depending on the
software program it was running, into an almost infinite range of specific
devices, from word processor to communications tool to simulation model
to (no doubt surreptitiously) video game console. Historians of technology
are only just beginning to come to terms with the history of software, a sub-
ject of even larger scope and complexity than the history of the hardware
that runs it. And as for the larger history of computerization, as it trans-
formed the ways in which the Salk biologists conceptualize and practice
their discipline, or engineers and architects design and build things, or
artists make music, movies, or photographs, or average citizens communi-
cate, consume, and interact with their environment—these are obviously
not just one history but many, all linked in fundamental and significant
ways by their shared reliance on the vast sociotechnological network of
computers, microprocessors, and other digital devices.

It may be that the story of the computerization or, as I will argue, the
digitization of modern society is too massive, recent, or amorphous a topic
for any one discipline to claim in its entirety. Communications depart-
ments, information schools, interdisciplinary programs in the digital
humanities, and the emerging discipline of internet studies have all laid
claim to some of this territory, and for legitimate reasons. But many of
these approaches are frustratingly ahistorical, adopting unquestioningly
the claims of computer enthusiasts and internet utopians that we are living
through a technological revolution unprecedented in all of human history.
There is a desperate need for historians of technology, with their long tra-
dition of providing nuanced, theoretically sophisticated analyses of tech-
nological and cultural developments, to provide some historical context for
understanding these phenomena.

In this essay I will explore the ways in which the history of science and
technology has thus far engaged with the history of computers, computing,
computerization, and other closely related technologies and practices. I will
argue for a new approach toward integrating these histories and addressing
more directly the broader questions being raised by academics in other dis-
ciplines, by policy makers and business leaders, and by the larger general
public.

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Whither the History of Computing?

The conventional classification used within the history of technology
discipline to designate works dealing with the topics outlined above is “his-
tory of computing.” For most of the past few decades this has been a serv-
iceable category, covering in theory both machines (computers) and proc-
esses (computing). In recent years, as our understanding of the relevant
histories of modern-day ICTs (information and communications tech-
nologies) and other digital devices has expanded to include a whole host of
developments and technologies for which no one term is a satisfactorily
comprehensive descriptor—including, for example, the data-processing
machines that predated the electronic digital computer, such as the me-
chanical tabulating machine, or the many communication devices whose
histories are essential to understanding the social and technological archi-
tecture of the contemporary smart-phone—specialists in the history of
computing have experimented with using other unifying concepts around
which to organize their respective disciplines. For example, it is no coinci-
dence that so many of these historians hold positions in schools of infor-
mation, given that the seemingly universal desire to manage and control in-
formation is a common theme in much of their work. This said, “history of
computing” remains the dominant, catchall term for describing all these
subdisciplines.

Within the history of computing literature, the primary concern has
been the development of the electronic digital computer. This represents
both the popular understanding of what is the most significant innovation
in the history of computing, as well as the background of many of the ear-
liest historians working in this area. These included many computer pro-
fessionals-turned-amateur historians who, like many non-academic histo-
rians of technology, were concerned primarily with the key moments of
invention and questions of priority.5 The academic historians who wrote
about computing tended to have backgrounds in the history of science,
mathematics, or technology, and although they produced much more
sophisticated histories, they also tended to address questions of interest to
their respective disciplines and focus on the contributions of the tradi-
tional academic, scientific, and engineering elites. As a result, these histo-
ries gravitated naturally toward the high-status activities associated with
the design and theorization of computers, rather than toward the more
mundane work of actual computation. To the degree that they dealt with
computing, as opposed to the computer, they focused almost exclusively on
scientific computing. In the popular literature, of course, the emphasis has
always been on great men and important “firsts,” on the massive early arti-

5. Herman Lukoff, From Dits to Bits; David E. Lundstrom, A Few Good Men from
Univac; Michael Williams, A History of Computing Technology; Alice Rowe Burks, Who
Invented the Computer?

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facts that now look so impressive mounted in museums, and on the lineage
of technological descent from past accomplishments that best explains the
shape of things in the present.

It did not take long, however, for the academic historians at least to dis-
cover a history of computing that predated the invention of the electronic
digital computer, and that challenged the very centrality of the computer in
that history. Most obvious were the immediate precursors of the large-scale
electronic-computing experiments of the World War II period, including
mechanical calculating machines, human computing projects, and analog-
electric cybernetic control systems.6 It turned out that there were also entire
industries devoted to information and data processing, such as the business
machines industry, whose origins were distinct from those of scientific
computing and pursued an entirely different technological trajectory, but
which came to define during the immediate postwar period not only the
technical architecture of the electronic computer, but also its cultural
meaning and social significance.7 In fact, the “Cambrian explosion” of in-
novation that occurred in the business machines industry during the last
decades of the nineteenth century, which produced most of the firms, such
as IBM, Burroughs, Honeywell, and Remington Rand, that would later play
such formative roles in the early commercial computer industry, was at
least as significant in the history of modern computing as the later innova-
tions that would emerge from the wartime experiments with electronic cal-
culating machines.8 The fact that none of these companies viewed them-
selves as being primarily involved in “computing,” at least for the first
half-century or more of their existences, complicated our understanding of
what the history of computing was really about. In their excellent (and ex-
traordinarily durable) historical synthesis of this second generation of his-
tory-of-computing literature, Martin Campbell-Kelly and William Aspray
characterized the computer as “the information machine,” which aptly cap-
tured this new perspective on relevant history—or histories, as Michael
Mahoney repeatedly argued is the more appropriate description.9

The expansion of the history of computing to include more informa-
tion-processing technologies than just the electronic computer opened up
the field to a broader range of participants as well. Historians looking
beyond the manufacturing of computers began asking questions about how
computers were used, by whom, and for what purposes. They uncovered
the crucial contributions made by nonelite actors like technicians, opera-

6. Paul Ceruzzi, Reckoners; David Alan Grier, When Computers Were Human;
David A. Mindell, Between Human and Machine.

7. James Beniger, The Control Revolution; JoAnne Yates, Control through Communi-
cation; Alfred Chandler and James Cortada, A Nation Transformed by Information.

8. James Cortada, Before the Computer; Lars Heide, Punched-Card Systems and the
Early Information Explosion.

9. Martin Campbell-Kelly and William Aspray, Computer; Michael S. Mahoney,
“The Histories of Computing(s).”

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tors, and programmers, and in doing so rediscovered the significant pres-
ence of women in computing.10 They also revealed the ideological dimen-
sions of the computer revolution: far from being an inevitable consequence
of economic rationality, the desire to computerize was often driven by the
need for centralized administrative control, or to advance individual or
professional agendas, or simply to appear cutting-edge and “shiny.”11 For a
wide variety of efficiency experts, systems men, management consultants,
and government officials, the novel and as yet inchoate technology of elec-
tronic computing represented the ideal tool with which to achieve goals that
already had been decided on. In this case, computerization was a means to
an end, not the end in itself. But although this new generation of historians
of computing engaged explicitly with other historical literatures like those
of business, labor, and social history, they continued to take seriously the
centrality of technology in the larger structures of power and processes of
social change. To borrow from a felicitous phrase from Jon Agar’s history of
computing initiatives in the British civil service, historians of computing
were “putting the ‘bureau’ back into ‘bureaucracy.’”12 In doing so, they not
only enriched the specialist history of computing literature, but reminded
historians in other subdisciplines that any serious study of mid- to late-
twentieth-century history would necessarily have to engage with innova-
tions in computing and information technology.

The Protean Machine

Perhaps the most promising development in the recent literature on the
history of computing has been the increasing focus on software. The his-
tory of software has long been recognized as a critical subject of historical
inquiry, but it is only in the past decade that historians have developed the
tools and methods to write about it effectively. While the significance of
software is widely acknowledged, coming to terms with it from a historical
perspective has proven extraordinarily difficult.13

First, a note on why software is so central to our modern understand-
ing of what computers are and what they can be used for. The first elec-
tronic digital computers were designed as special-purpose machines un-
derstood primarily in terms of existing traditions of mechanical (or at least

10. Jennifer Light, “When Computers Were Women”; Marie Hicks, “Only the Clothes
Changed”; Nathan Ensmenger, “Making Programming Masculine.”

11. Thomas Haigh, “The Chromium-Plated Tabulator”; Nathan Ensmenger, “Let-
ting the ‘Computer Boys’ Take Over”; Eden Medina, Cybernetic Revolutionaries; Joseph A.
November, Biomedical Computing; Christopher D. McKenna, The World’s Newest Pro-
fession.

12. Jon Agar, The Government Machine, 6.
13. Ulf Hashagen, Reinhard Keil-Slawik, and Arthur L. Norberg, eds., History of Com-

puting; Martin Campbell-Kelly, “The History of the History of Software”; Michael S.
Mahoney, “What Makes the History of Software Hard.”

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14. Seymour Papert, Mindstorms, viii.
15. Sherry Turkle, The Second Self.

mechanically assisted) calculation. But it was soon realized that, by reengi-
neering these devices to eliminate the distinction between the operating
instructions of the device (its program) and the data on which it operated,
the electronic digital computer could be reinvented—and reconceptual-
ized—as a universal logic machine. It is this inherent flexibility, and its abil-
ity to be programmed via software to serve an almost infinite number of
purposes, that makes the electronic digital computer such a powerful and
compelling technology. Given the right software, an electronic digital com-
puter can simulate, control, or even replicate almost any other complex
technological, social, or even biological system. “What the gears cannot do
the computer might,” the pioneering computer scientist Seymour Papert
famously suggested, “The computer is the Proteus of machines. Its essence
is its universality, its power to simulate.”14 While the perceived universality
of the computer has certainly been overstated, it is clear that it is software,
as much as the computer itself, that makes such claims and predictions
plausible.

Software is also what defines our relationship to the computer. It is what
we experience when we interact with the machine. It turns the generic, com-
modity computer configuration—screen, keyboard, and the (quite literally)
black boxes that contain all of its essential circuity—into a multipurpose
collection of capabilities that reflects our particular requirements and
desires, such as an email client, word processor, media player, simulated
oscilloscope, or a collection of virtual Angry Birds, among many other
things. We might not know what kind of computer we are using or who
manufactured it, but we definitely know what software we are currently run-
ning. It is software that provides the computer with such an unusual degree
of sustained interpretive flexibility, and software that provides the computer
with much of its perceived economic, social, and cultural significance.15

The idea that it is the software that defines the computer is not some
mere flight of fancy sprung from the fevered imagination of a postmodern
theorist, but is rather the essence of all modern theories of computation.
For present-day computer scientists, the computer is by definition a ma-
chine that runs a certain kind of software program; whether the machine is
electronic, digital, biological, or even material is irrelevant. What matters is
that it can run software. It is this notion of the abstract computer, the Pla-
tonic ideal known as the universal Turing machine, that renders the com-
putational mindset so compelling—and indeed, so hegemonic. Any system
that can be described in terms of a Turing machine is a type of computer
and can be understood using computational terminology. This is what al-
lows Dawkins to describe the genome as computer code, the physicist Ste-
phen Wolfram to conclude that the universe is fundamentally digital, and

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16. Dawkins, “Genetics”; Stephen Wolfram, A New Kind of Science; Steven Pinker,
How the Mind Works.

17. John W. Tukey, “The Teaching of Concrete Mathematics.”
18. Andrew Friedman and Dominic Cornford, Computer Systems Development.

the psychologist Steven Pinker to represent the human brain as the inter-
section of Darwin and a computer program.16

But we are running ahead of ourselves. From a historical perspective,
this understanding of software as the essence of computing took some time
to develop. The first electronic digital computers were simply programma-
ble calculators. The pioneering ENIAC machine, for example, was not so
much programmed as configured, with each new application requiring ex-
tensive preparation, because the machine needed to be rewired using plug
cables and mechanical dials. The work involved in “setting up” the com-
puter was considered to be low-skilled …