cover image Zeros and Ones: Digital Women and the New Technoculture

Zeros and Ones: Digital Women and the New Technoculture

Sadie Plant. Doubleday Books, $23.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-385-48260-8

In this vibrant manifesto, Plant (The Most Radical Gesture) weaves a portrait of the influences that women have had on the development of the computer age. Women, their work and their thought have nurtured the growth of computing for a long time, she explains. From the egomaniacal wisdom of Byron's daughter, Ada Lovelace, and her involvement with Charles Babbage and his Difference Engine, through the ""runaway female circuitry"" of human reproduction, this appropriately nonlinear history illuminates both the enormity and the subtlety of female software. Not only were women the first computers, when computers were not machines, says Plant, but their minds arguably work differently from male minds: ""women... think about more things, allowing all parts of their brains to rest."" What is most remarkable here is that, in her description of the roles women have played in the digital age, Plant demonstrates the ""`woven' interconnectedness"" (George Londow, quoted by Plant) of digital networks. She asserts, and simultaneously demonstrates, that ""no topic is as regular and simple as was once assumed."" Plant finds that Darwinism is ""a self-reinforcing loop with which orthodox conceptions of evolution have simply been unable to cope."" Similarly, the circular, crafted logic of this often brilliant work is a challenge, although readers who embrace it will be well rewarded. (Oct.)