After reading Vannevar Bush’s seminal (ugh, what an androcentric term) article on the need for integrated access to information, I thought about how my own being owes its existence to the telephone company. My father and mother met at Bell Labs in New Jersey the early 1960s. Unlike Bush’s forecast, however, both were working in technology and science. My mother was not a “typist” or a “girl.” She was a woman who used a degree in mathematics to program very early computers. Bush, like so many other futurists, could only see technological change not social change. Just like the creators of the Jetsons television show, his vision of future kept gender roles firmly rooted while imagining a world of technological advancements that would improve life for all involved.
Thankfully, my mother saw a world where she could take part in the future in a less gendered way than Bush saw. And thankfully Bush’s ideas helped generate what became the Internet and search engines and all the wonderful things that the Jetsons couldn’t quite imagine. I have no need for a jetpack, but I love that I can use Google to discover my father’s patent. I may not understand what a convertible binary counter and shift register is, but if I want to get to the bottom of it, I’m sure the Internet can help educate me. Strangely, though, while my father’s patent lives on in an easily discovered search, his own life does not. He died in 1996, before digital profiles and web sites and social media would have immortalized more of him than just his 30-year-old invention.