The Evolution of Intimacy: Advertising Personal Computers in the 1980s

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.


M C Elish

About Madeleine Clare Elish

Madeleine is an anthropologist focusing on intersections of artificial intelligence, automation and culture. Her areas of research include the impact of computer systems on work organizations and how new technologies affect everyday understandings of values and ethical norms. She earned a doctorate in in Anthropology at Columbia Universit, an S.M. in Comparative Media Studies at MIT, and a B.A. in Art History from Columbia University. She is also a Researcher with the Intelligence and Autonomy Initiative at Data & Society, which develops policy research connecting the dots between robots, algorithms and automation. In the corporate sector, she has worked with large and small firms, including Yahoo! and Samsung, as a design researcher and consultant.


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