It is no question that computers have changed the world, though the story of their inception and evolution was only half told. Evans takes a feminist lens to a field that has been hyper-masculinized for decades. But, Computer Science was not always male dominated, as it is now. According to ComputerScience.org, boys outnumber girls 4:1 on the Advanced Placement Computer Science Exam. I was the only girl in my AP Computer Science class in high school.
The women who made the internet have been cropped out of photographs and left off the record books, until now. Claire L. Evans offers a powerful look at history, finding women who history forgot and brings them back into the spotlight.
Her passion seeps into her work, giving a making it as compelling as it is informative. Broad Band reads like a series of short stories spanning from Ada Lovelace and the first computing machine in the Victoria Era to the Cyberfeminists of the 1990s. Women are there at every stage of the technological evolution, from the computational machines of WWII to the first social media platform. The dawn of the internet to the first video game.
Not only does Evans tell a previously untold story, she writes why it was previously untold. Ada Lovelace’s work came in the form of notes on the work of her male counterpart and were signed with only her initials. The ENIAC Six, the women who programmed the machine vital in the war efforts of WWII, did not appear in the newspapers, but their invention did. These women were not given the credit in their time, so it makes sense that they were forgotten. Evans does not come from a place of anger that these amazing women have been left out of history, but from a place of excitement that she now has a chance to tell their story. It is proud of what women have done and hopeful for the strides women will continue to make.
Evans gives a particularly strong sense of place and time. The women she writes about are scattered across the States, with the exception of Ada Lovelace who is rooted firmly in Victorian England. Grace Hopper programmed in the overly male-dominated world of academia in Harvard in the 1950s. Other featured places include the largest interconnected cave system in America, a very hippie communal living compound in the Pacific Northwest, and the grunge scene of New York City in the ‘90s. She treats online spaces with the same specificity: the community on Echo, the first New York based social media, and Women.com on the forefront of online reading. Evans transports you to the setting of her stories, even if the setting is entirely online.
This quote literally made me tear up the first time I read it.
“Reading Ada’s Correspondence, I see someone I wish I could reach out to, across the centuries, and say; you’re right. Nobody can see it but you. But you will have inheritors. Granddaughters and great-granddaughters. They will sprout up everywhere, all over the world, and work with the same dogged, unrelenting focus. Other people will keep getting the credit, until one day they won’t anymore. And then your history will be written, a hundred times, by teenage girls at their desks in the heart of their kingdoms, on machines beyond your wildest imagination” (22).
Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women who Made the Internet offers a compelling and well-written look at the women who help shaped, or more accurately, shaped the online world we know today. Without them there would be no computers, no internet, no video games, no social media, no blogs. Women’s stories, in all fields and facets of history, deserve to be told. And Evans tells the stories of women in technology with the compassion, adoration, and respect that they deserve.