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


In recent decades, the history of computing has moved beyond its traditional focus on machines towards a broader study of people, processes, and practices. The study of software in particular has opened up new avenues for exploring questions about gender, labor history, organizational politics, users and use-practices, expertise, and professional identity as they relate to the changing role of computers in society. Beginning with a creative re-imagining of Bruno Latour’s classic study of laboratory life in the context of modern computational biology and bio-informatics, the author argues that the ubiquitous presence of the computer in the material practices of the laboratory reflects a larger shift in the epistemological foundations of science from experiment to simulation. He suggests that by focusing on digitization, rather than computerization, historians can better understand the range of technological and conceptual innovations that have dramatically transformed the work of scientists and engineers in almost every discipline.