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The Social Meaning of the Personal Computer: Or, Why the Personal Computer Revolution Was No Revolution

Bryan Pfaffenberger
Anthropological Quarterly
Vol. 61, No. 1, The Center in American Culture: Analysis and Critique (Jan., 1988), pp. 39-47
DOI: 10.2307/3317870
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3317870
Page Count: 9
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The Social Meaning of the Personal Computer: Or, Why the Personal Computer Revolution Was No Revolution
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Abstract

This essay presents a processual model of the personal computing movement that depicts the PC's birth within the context of complex and often contradictory social strategies, each of which used the meaning of computer technology in a distinctive way. It suggests that innovators are constrained by such processes to depict new artifacts in culturally meaningful ways, so that it is difficult for them to conceive of their technologies in radical terms. The rhetoric of "revolution" aside, innovators found it expedient to draw from the stock of meanings at hand as they created new meaning-frameworks for their artifacts. The result is that the new artifacts did not express a coherent or effective political vision and failed to have the intended social effects. This study implies that new technologies frequently reproduce existing social and meaning systems; if they do bring about social change, the changes may differ from those intended by the innovators.

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