Vannevar Bush's "roomful of girls"
Vannevar Bush may have been a technological visionary, but, like most writers in the 1940s, his predictions are rife with myopic gender expectations that changed every bit as much as the technology. In "As we may think
," the 1945 article worshipped by librarians and HCI folk around the world, he talks about scientists and assistants. The scientists (and mathematicians, and really, anyone doing any kind of higher thinking) are all men, and the assistants (stenographers, typists) are all women. For example:
"[A computer] will take instructions and data from a roomful of girls arms with simple keyboard punches, and will deliver sheets of computed results every few minutes."
It's insulting, humorous, and forgivable--in that order--to read Bush. Given the historical context, of course his experience was with roomsful of women piecing away at WWII cryptography. All of the big writers are guilty of it. Englebart (1963) talks of "augmenting man's intellect" and Licklider (1960) describes "man-computer symbiosis." But it's too bad their enlightenment wasn't reflected in gender-neutral pronouns.