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'Men invented the Internet.' Really? Xeni Jardin begs to differ

June 04, 2012|By Matt Pearce
  • Writing the history of the Internet -- or a history of sexism in Silicon Valley -- is not as straightforward as one might think.
Writing the history of the Internet -- or a history of sexism in Silicon Valley… (Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg )

Xeni Jardin would like to have a word with the New York Times.

“Men invented the Internet,” the paper's David Streitfeld wrote in a Saturday story about sexism in Silicon Valley. The article, at its core, was about the “group of 21st-century men who may be hard at work building the 22nd century but, when it comes to dealing with women in the workplace, are stuck firmly in the caveman era — or at least in the 1950s.”

Jardin, the iconoclastic co-editor of the blogging hive known as Boing Boing, took issue with Streitfeld’s opening assertion. “You guys, ladies suck at technology and the New York Times is ON IT,” she wrote, launching into a full-throated defense of women’s place in tech-industry history.

“Radia 'Mother of the Internet' Perlman and the ghosts of RADM Grace Hopper, Ada Lovelace and every woman who worked in technology for the past 150 years frown upon you, sir,” she wrote. “Women may have been invisible, but the work we did laid the groundwork for more visible advancements now credited to more famous men.”

She added, "'Men are credited with inventing the Internet.' There. Fixed it for you.”

Like any business that turns life upside down, the tech industry has its own creation myths — popular mythologies told about boy geniuses who traveled to a valley filled with silicon and turned it all to gold. Bill Gates “stealing” ideas from Steve Jobs to become the richest man alive. Harvard misfit Mark Zuckerberg becoming a cutthroat tycoon and creating the world’s most powerful social network.

It’s a story often told of the Great Man, in other words, and not the less iconic men — and women — who laid the tracks for these barons to travel to stardom yet who never made it onto the covers of all the magazines.

This weekend, when Jardin wasn’t hurling thunderbolts at the New York Times’ Renzo Piano building in midtown Manhattan, her Twitter account became a clearinghouse for all the overlooked women in tech history.

“I'll tell my mom who programmed via punch cards in the '70s that her efforts didn't count according to @nytimes,” @busblog tweeted at Jardin.

“I doubt my mom, who put up with this crap in grad school, xerox & bell in the 70s & 80s, would be surprised that nothing has changed,” added @TouchstoneZ.

So consider this a good time to do a little reading. Try “When Computers Were Human,” by David Alan Grier, whose grandmother was once trained to do scientific calculations by hand — to be a human computer, in other words. And check out this account from Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research about how “the earliest computer programmers were women and that the programming field was once stereotyped as female.”

Men are credited with inventing the Internet.

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national@latimes.com

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