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Presented By: Digital Studies Institute

Digital Studies Research Meeting

Li Cornfeld & Sarah Murray

Li Cornfeld: The Digital Tech Expo

In January 2020, more than 170,000 people traveled from around the world to the Las Vegas Strip for CES, the global tech industry’s massive annual convention. In January 2021, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic pushed the event entirely online. Drawing on research conducted both on the ground at CES in the years prior to the pandemic as well as recent research of this year’s “all digital” event, this presentation asks what these dual modes of exhibition suggest about the role of liveness in tech demonstration. This research is in development as part of a book project, tentatively titled The Theater of Invention: Live Performance in the Tech Industry, which explores tech expos and conventions as ritual practices dedicated to legitimizing the industrial imagination of emerging technology.

Sarah Murray: Fashioning Intelligent Bodies: Mid-Century Smart Working Women and Wearability Before the Wearable

Quick, what do Winnie the Welder, Hildy Johnson, and Claire McCardell have in common? This mix of fictional and real figures represent some of the well-dressed women anchoring the U.S. workforce in the early 20th century. In a period shaped by wartime progress, deep nationalism, and technological development, the definition of a fashionable body changed to accommodate anxieties around white working women, class, and new industrial standards. It is not uncommon to trace the history of artificial intelligence to midcentury war efforts in code-breaking, cybernetics, military computing, and early machine learning. This talk offers a different prelude to ordinary A.I., one at the convergence of fashion, women, and work. What does smart mean before it becomes associated with machine intelligence and contemporary consumer tech? What was the idea of intelligence before ‘thinking machines’ were introduced to the public and became a preoccupation of science, industry, and government? The answers are threaded, quite literally, through the design of clothes for work. Widespread connotations associated smart with neat, efficient bodies connected to work outside the home, skill with new machinery, and sensible, store-bought styles. Long before the wearable, an emergent wearability established the properly outfitted worker as a safe site for the union of technology, gender, and labor and signaled a re-coordination of bodies to accommodate shifting meanings of intelligence.
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