Mistakes Were Made: Computer History, Decompiled

April 17 | 239 Greene St., 8th Floor

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It’s an old adage that journalists write the first draft of history, and historians compose the second. But what happens after that? “Mistakes Were Made” proposes that getting history wrong is the inevitable precondition of historical research, as each generation of writers explores that gaps and ghosts left by the previous. Turning these insights on the swiftly obsolescing world of computer history, this event gathers emerging scholars challenging traditional technology narratives, and pairs them with creative coders, new media artists, tech innovators, and other members of computer culture’s past and present “fringe.”



10:15am : Event opens. Coffee Served.

10:30-12pm : Stephanie Dick + Ramsey Nasser

12pm-1:30 : Lunch Break

1:30-3pm : Kevin Driscoll + Jason Scott

3-4:30pm : Joy Rankin + Stacy Horn

4:30-5:30pm : Keynote: Erica Robles-Anderson. “One Damn Slide After Another: PowerPoint at Every Occasion for Speech.”

5:30-6:00pm : Reception

Moderated by Finn Brunton, New York University.

Event designed and produced by Laine Nooney, NYU. Sponsored by Intel Science and Technology Center for Social Computing, and the Department of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University.


Stephanie Dick is currently a Junior Fellow with the Society of Fellows who completed a PhD in the Department of History of Science at Harvard University. Dick specializes in the the history of mathematics and computing in the postwar United States, with a particular interest in how different academic communities negotiated a place for computing in their knowledge-making infrastructure. Her current documents transformations in the production and understanding of mathematical proofs precipitated by the introduction of computers.

Kevin Driscoll (Ph.D., University of Southern California) is a postdoctoral researcher at Microsoft Research. His research concerns the popular and political cultures of networked personal computing with special attention to myths about internet infrastructure. He recently completed a dissertation tracing the history of social computing through the dial-up bulletin board systems of the 1980s and 1990s. Previously, he earned an M.S. in Comparative Media Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and taught mathematics and computer science at Prospect Hill Academy.

Stacy Horn is the founder of Echo, a NYC-based social network that went live in 1990. Echo was home to many online media firsts, including the first interactive TV show, which was produced with the SciFi Channel. Twenty-five years later, Echo is still around. Stacy describes Echo as like the dive bar that has hung in there even though the neighborhood all around it has changed. Currently, Stacy is an author. The most recent, Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others, is an eclectic history of group singing, and all the benefits that come from being in the middle of a song. Her previous books include Unbelievable: Investigations into Ghosts, Poltergeists, Telepathy, and Other Unseen Phenomena from the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory, The Restless Sleep: Inside New York City’s Cold Case Squad, (which received starred reviews from both Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly) and Waiting for My Cats to Die: A Morbid Memoir.

Ramsey Nasser is a computer scientist, game designer, and educator based in Brooklyn. He researches programming languages by building tools to make computation more expressive and implementing projects that question the basic assumptions we make about code itself. His games playfully push people out of their comfort zones, and are often written in experimental programming languages of his design. A former Eyebeam fellow and a member of Kitchen Table Coders, when he is not reasoning about abstract unintuitive machines, he builds and maintains vintage motorcycles.

Joy Rankin studies the textures of digitization in daily life since World War II. Her research addresses American history, the history of science and technology, and the history of gender. Rankin defended her dissertation in October 2014, and she will receive her doctorate from Yale University in May 2015. Her dissertation, “Personal Computing before Personal Computers,” argues that students and educators using academic time-sharing systems during the 1960s and 1970s transformed computing from a military, business, and scientific endeavor into an intensely personal practice. “Personal Computing before Personal Computers” earned recognition and support with the IEEE Life Members’ Fellowship in Electrical History (2012-13) and the Adelle and Erwin Tomash Fellowship in the History of Information Technology (2013-14). Rankin’s second project interrogates the history of democracy and technology by analyzing the relationships among activism, gender, identity, and technology during the intertwined rights and protest movements of the long 1960s.

Erica Robles-Anderson is an Assistant Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at NYU. She studies forms of collective life in mediated environments, with particular attention to how architectural materials and technologies like windows, displays, screens, and slideware, shape a sense of public, shared, or intersubjective experience. Trained as a cultural historian, interaction designer, and experimental psychologist, she employs a range of methodologies to explore sociality in media-spaces. She is currently completing a book about the 20th century rise of hyper-mediated worship, or megachurches. Prior to her position at NYU she was a Postdoctoral Fellow at HUMlab, Umeå University. She hold a Ph.D. in Communication, and a B.S. in Symbolic Systems, both from Stanford University. Robles-Anderson is currently the recipient of a multi-year grant from the Intel Science and Technology Center on Social Computing.

Jason Scott is an archivist, filmmaker, professional table-flipper and inappropriate role model. Besides his job as the Free-Range Archivist of the Internet Archive, he is also the creator of the TEXTFILES.COM bbs history site and owner of the twitter cat they call Sockington. At some point he made an enormous amount of poor choices and is now considered some sort of world expert on the death of websites. In his capacity as mascot of Archive Team, he puts on a very small mask and attempts to save copies of online services before they go away forever. He is more trouble than he is worth.