Awareness of computers and computation rose considerably in the United States between 1939 and 1969. Press attention and public demonstrations showcased early robots and the push-button kitchen as two approachable yet fantastical examples of how computing processes might be applied to social life. Media coverage was hyperbolic and sensational, but also cautiously enthusiastic, skeptical, and sometimes dismissive. Public displays and print media consistently engaged signifiers of white, middle-class womanhood during the multidecade era when computers went from calculating machines to technologies families could begin to imagine in their homes. While much scholarship theorizes sensationalism as affective excess in opposition to the rational, the emergence of computing in this period necessitates a new consideration of sensationalistic media practices. The case of how publics were introduced to early ideas about computers is an opportunity to consider the complexity of sensationalism as a bundle of affects anchored in the iconography of white femininity, a mode I term sensible sensationalism.
A Warm Meal and Kisses Too: The Sensible Sensationalism of ProtoComputing
Sarah Murray is assistant professor in Film/TV/Media and Digital Studies at the University of Michigan. She studies media at their moments of emergence in order to understand how communications technologies foster care, recognition, and longevity for some, and harm and bias for others. Her research includes studies of apps, platforms, smart technologies, startup cultures, US tech industries’ approaches to aging users, radio history, podcasting, and digital theory. She is published in International Journal of Cultural Studies, Feminist Media Histories, and Critical Studies in Media Communication. With Jeremy Morris, she is coauthor of Appified: Culture in the Age of Apps (2018).
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Sarah Murray; A Warm Meal and Kisses Too: The Sensible Sensationalism of ProtoComputing. Feminist Media Histories 1 July 2022; 8 (4): 55–84. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/fmh.2022.8.4.55
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