Lecture “Disability, Embodiment, and Online Socialization: Computerized Conferencing Technology in the 1970s”


Dec 7 2021, 17:00-18:30

Keynote  (Online) via ZOOM

Disability, Embodiment, and Online Socialization: Computerized Conferencing Technology in the 1970s

Elizabeth Petrick (Rice University, Houston)

How do we understand the role of the body when socializing in a digital space? In her talk Elizabeth Petrick addresses that question through a case study of computerized conferencing: an early networking technology through which researchers considered some of the first questions of online social participation. Notably, researchers employed people with disability as research subjects, with the understanding that the technology might one day benefit them by allowing for greater social participation without needing to move about the built environment. Computerized conferencing held of promise of greater equity, as well as being a new frontier of digital space in which to build an online society. It would be a space where all were equal, as text on the screen, with aspects of identity that could prejudice others hidden from view.

However, while the technology seemed to offer some potential of life removed from bodily physicality, in reality, the body was never left behind. The bodies of research subjects intruded upon experiments, with accessible technologies needing to be purchased or created for the people with disabilities involved to actually use the computers they were testing. At the same time, the dream of bodily markers of identity being left behind, where one could simply choose what one revealed about oneself, remained just that: a dream. Bodies are one place where the material world intersects with digital space. Bodies embrace technology and welcome digitization, in certain ways, while pushing back and resisting it in others. It is through the body that digital interaction becomes possible, and therefore part of the promise of greater access and social participation becomes real, but never in a way that is truly disembodied.

For registration please contact cdcforum@leuphana.de