Making Core Memory: Design Inquiry into Gendered Legacies of Engineering and Craftwork

Samantha Shorey
Samantha Shorey
Helen Remick
Helen Remick

CHI, pp. 1-13, 2018.

Cited by: 27|Bibtex|Views31|Links
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Keywords:
technical workApollo Guidance Computerhuman-computer interactionspace travelinformation storageMore(16+)
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While the accounts of the engineers and astronauts are canonized through our achievements — our giant leap for all mankind — we may never know the experiences of the Little Old Ladies

Abstract:

This paper describes the Making Core Memory project, a design inquiry into the invisible work that went into assem-bling core memory, an early form of computer information storage initially woven by hand. Drawing on feminist tradi-tions of situated knowing, we designed an electronic quilt and a series of participatory workshops that mater...More

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Introduction
  • The authors' methods of inquiry shape not only how the authors do design and technology development but how the authors come to understand who counts as a designer and what counts as design practice, extending the very definition of design.
  • The authors describe the process of collaboratively making a historically-informed design artifact that reconstructs the story of magnetic-core memory.
  • NASA engineers nicknamed this hardware “LOL memory” for the “Little Old Ladies” who carefully wove wires around small electro-magnetic ferrite cores by hand.
  • The authors contextualize the development of the Core Memory Quilt in this history, beginning with the NASA mission that catalyzed a new reliance on weaving techniques for digital information storage.
  • One of the key solutions was a form of information storage called “core rope memory.”
Highlights
  • Our methods of inquiry shape not only how we do design and technology development but also how we come to understand who counts as a designer and what counts as design practice, extending the very definition of design
  • We explore our own handwork as human-computer interaction designers in relation to the people we acknowledge as central contributors to engineering innovations
  • Scholars still know little about the core memory weavers: what their work looked like or what they contributed to space travel
  • We contextualize the development of our Core Memory Quilt in this history, beginning with the NASA mission that catalyzed a new reliance on weaving techniques for digital information storage
  • We have explored how the Core Memory Quilt helped us challenge who gets acknowledged for their involvement in technical work over time
  • While the accounts of the engineers and astronauts are canonized through our achievements — our giant leap for all mankind — we may never know the experiences of the Little Old Ladies
Methods
  • The authors' methodological approach draws from feminist approaches to situated inquiry [27,28,63] and strands of interventionist inquiry within traditions of critical and speculative design [17,18,47], a position summarized elsewhere as critical fabulations [55].
  • The authors' project draws from the above perspectives to explore the specific bodies, practices, and narratives underacknowledged in historical accounts of innovation and contemporary understandings of engineering work.
  • How do craft legacies of innovation inform HCI’s ideas of technical labor? Second, how might historically-informed objects expand existing instruments of design research?
Conclusion
  • The authors have explored how the Core Memory Quilt helped them challenge who gets acknowledged for their involvement in technical work over time.
  • Dancing bunny-suited clean room workers, happily making chips for free.” Instead, she suggests, “Looking inside digital culture means both looking back in time to the roots of the computing industry and the specific material production practices that positioned race and gender as commodities in electronics factories” [45], p.937
  • What it means to be innovative is deeply connected to what it means to be free and empowered.
  • Reviving their accounts informs the contemporary understanding of what innovation looks like and, in turn, shapes possibilities for building technology otherwise
Summary
  • Introduction:

    The authors' methods of inquiry shape not only how the authors do design and technology development but how the authors come to understand who counts as a designer and what counts as design practice, extending the very definition of design.
  • The authors describe the process of collaboratively making a historically-informed design artifact that reconstructs the story of magnetic-core memory.
  • NASA engineers nicknamed this hardware “LOL memory” for the “Little Old Ladies” who carefully wove wires around small electro-magnetic ferrite cores by hand.
  • The authors contextualize the development of the Core Memory Quilt in this history, beginning with the NASA mission that catalyzed a new reliance on weaving techniques for digital information storage.
  • One of the key solutions was a form of information storage called “core rope memory.”
  • Methods:

    The authors' methodological approach draws from feminist approaches to situated inquiry [27,28,63] and strands of interventionist inquiry within traditions of critical and speculative design [17,18,47], a position summarized elsewhere as critical fabulations [55].
  • The authors' project draws from the above perspectives to explore the specific bodies, practices, and narratives underacknowledged in historical accounts of innovation and contemporary understandings of engineering work.
  • How do craft legacies of innovation inform HCI’s ideas of technical labor? Second, how might historically-informed objects expand existing instruments of design research?
  • Conclusion:

    The authors have explored how the Core Memory Quilt helped them challenge who gets acknowledged for their involvement in technical work over time.
  • Dancing bunny-suited clean room workers, happily making chips for free.” Instead, she suggests, “Looking inside digital culture means both looking back in time to the roots of the computing industry and the specific material production practices that positioned race and gender as commodities in electronics factories” [45], p.937
  • What it means to be innovative is deeply connected to what it means to be free and empowered.
  • Reviving their accounts informs the contemporary understanding of what innovation looks like and, in turn, shapes possibilities for building technology otherwise
Funding
  • This work was made possible by NSF grants 1453329, 1423074, and 1523579
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