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Media, Culture, and Communication's Laine Nooney Hosts Event on Historical Context of Technology


This virtual event was sparked by Assistant Professor Laine Nooney’s book, The Apple II Age: How the Computer Became Personal.

On April 4, NYU Steinhardt hosted a virtual roundtable on how a historical reconsideration of the development of the computer industry could dismantle some long-held assumptions about technology today. 

cover of Laine Nooney's book The Apple II Age hown against a cyan background

“Computer Pasts/Computer Futures” was sparked by The Apple II Age: How the Computer Became Personal, the latest book by Laine Nooney, assistant professor of media, culture, and communication at NYU Steinhardt. The book details the history of how the 1977 Apple II became one of the most prominent personal computers of this dawning industry.

Participants included provocative thinkers and writers, including Charlton McIlwain, NYU’s vice provost for faculty engagement and development and professor of media, culture, and communication at Steinhardt; Cory Doctorow, blogger, journalist, and science fiction author; and Malcolm Harris, editor at The New Inquiry and author of Kids These Days: The Making of Millennials.

“A lot of us here have written and talked about the history of technology as a pushback or correction to generate an understanding of how we got here, but there can be some limits to this counternarrative,” said Joanne McNeil, moderator of the event and author of the novels Wrong Way and Lurking. “Sometimes in history, you end up reinforcing the narrative you’re trying to expand, if not disprove. With this panel grounded in history, maybe we can get a more interesting take to see what other possibilities are out there.”

“When given the opportunity to think about putting together this panel, I was attracted to people whose work I am inspired by, but also who are better than I am at connecting historic critique and possible futures,” said Nooney during the event. “When thinking about the alternative view of the history of computing in The Apple II Age, people absorb it in several different ways. However, I think I know the book has succeeded when I hear white men say that it fundamentally changed their personal identification with the way technology shaped their lives.”

Laine Nooney headshot

When given the opportunity to think about putting together this panel, I was attracted to people whose work I am inspired by, but also who are better than I am at connecting historic critique and possible futures.

Laine Nooney, Assistant Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication

Panelists also discussed topics such as the situation with and perception of “new tech” like artificial intelligence; the CHIPS and Science Act, which authorizes roughly $280 billion in new funding to boost U.S. research and manufacturing of semiconductors; and where they’d love to see conversations about technology going.

A combination of five headshots of the event participants.

Malcolm Harris, Laine Nooney, Joanne McNeil, Charlton McIlwain, Cory Doctorow

“When working on my own book [Black Software: The Internet & Racial Justice, From the AfroNet to Black Lives Matter], I started out narrowly trying to understand the issues around technology and social justice movements,” said McIlwain. “Through the course of my investigation, I realized that the much bigger issue is having to reset or rebalance our framing: instead [of] centering technology and following that narrative, [centering] the people behind it and what came before or after. By reorienting our gaze to say that our technology systems’ new innovations are entering an existing world that is permeated by discrimination distracts us from a larger context that first needs to change to allow the figures within it to reflect that change.”

Nooney is currently working on their second book about Sierra On-Line, a historic computer game company of the late 20th century, and its local labor history.

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