At the heart of this thesis is a desire to understand the evolving and situated relationship between humans and computers. Looking to a specific kind of computer at a specific moment in history, I analyze the ways in which advertising played a role in socially constructing an individual’s relationship to the personal computer in the home. Based an analysis of over 500 advertisements in widely circulated magazines during 1984-1987, this thesis examines through emblematic examples how advertisements during this period positioned the personal computer as a domestic machine. In observing the means of socially constructing the personal computer in the mid-1980s, we come to understand the role and potential implications of advertising in socially constructing meaning, as well as gain a deep perspective on how the personal computer was constituted in the early years of its introduction into the home. Taken together, these advertisements present a portrait of a technology’s evolution and begin to reveal how personal computers took on the meaning and place that they now occupy in contemporary life. Once embodiments of military and corporate de-humanizing control, computers are now accepted as evocative, social extensions of individual selves that represent individual freedom and power. With personal computers as our contemporary companions, at home, at work and in our laps, this thesis tells a history of how our relationship began.
About M C Elish
Madeleine Clare Elish is a Senior Research Scientist working with Google Research's Ethical AI team. Previously, she co-founded and led the AI on the Ground Initiative at Data & Society Research Institute, an independent nonprofit research organization focused on social implications of data-centric technologies & automation.
As a cultural anthropologist, her work examines the social impacts of AI and automation on society. She has conducted field work across varied industries and communities, ranging from the Air Force, the driverless car industry, and commercial aviation to precision agriculture and emergency healthcare. Her research has been published and cited in scholarly journals as well as publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, Wired, and MIT Tech Review. She holds a PhD in Anthropology from Columbia University and an S.M. in Comparative Media Studies from MIT.