Men Did Invent the Internet (and That’s a Huge Problem)

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Hmmmm, fascinating.

Boing Boing’s Xeni Jardin recently unleashed some righteous fury on the “steaming turd of an opening line in David Streitfeld’s otherwise serviceable New York Timespiece about […] gender discrimination in Silicon Valley.” The offending line: “Men invented the Internet.”

The thing is—and hold the rotten fruit, I’m going somewhere with this—that’s actually pretty accurate. The putative counterexamples Jardin offers are so strained that they end up reinforcing rather than refuting the claim. Grace Hopper was an important computing pioneer, but her achievements have to do with the creation of early programming languages (notably a predecessor to COBOL), not the Internet. Radia Perlman wrote a key networking protocol, and should probably be more widely known for it, but she did it in 1985, well after the invention of ARPANET and TCP/IP.  Ada Lovelace, by far the most famous of this trio, is also the one with the weakest claim to an original contribution: She was basically a press agent for Charles Babbage, and her reputation as the “first computer programmer” is based on her single significant paper, published in 1843, which included a description of an algorithm actually written by Babbage. If we’re really talking about the 15 or 20 people who could most reasonably be called “inventors of the Internet”—as opposed to “people who did a cool thing related to computers”—we are, in fact, talking about a bunch of guys. If we go with the broader “cool thing with a computer,” we’re no longer exclusivelytalking about guys, but until the last few decades, it’s still pretty disproportionate. MORE

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