Interview: Sadie Plant : IT girl for the 21st century

Information technology will liberate women as surely as the washing machine and the Pill. So says this week's groovy cultural theorist. But don't call her a cyberfeminist - she can't stand labels

Sadie Plant is a puzzle. She says the most outrageous things about women and computers and then acts as if she has said nothing unusual at all. She says women have been liberated by technology and foresees a future when "hysterical" thinking will be all the rage. Male dominance in all things, be it authoritarian ways of thinking or the missionary position, is on its way out. The future is female - or at least, not male. All of this is theoretical, mind, but that is also where Plant does her best thinking.

And why not? After all, she has been in academia for most of her rather short life (she is 33) and her new book Zeros and Ones: digital women + the new technoculture reflects that. It has flashes of brilliance but parts of it are also baffling. I tell her that I had some trouble with the bit about Freud, hysteria and sex and she says that I am the first interviewer who has even asked about that part of the book. I think to myself that I am not surprised because Zeros and Ones may be many things, but it is not a quick read and the hysteria bit is not at the beginning. But before we launch into virtual reality, I ask her a question about what it feels like to be a cyberfeminist.

Sadie looks rather pained at this. "I do not know where the cyberfeminist comes from," she says wearily. I point to the press release for her book that says she is a "self-proclaimed cyberfeminist who has been described as the most interesting woman in Britain". She shakes her head: "I think it is one of those things that the more you deny it the more people seem convinced that you want to be it. It was never a word that I volunteered or called myself." So what about being called the most interesting woman in Britain? She says she was flattered but thinks that the very idea of heroes - or even sheroes for that matter - is passe. "One of the things I am trying to talk about is that pulling out specific individuals as heroes or whatever is a thing of the past. So being called that really did have an ironic twist to it."

When we meet Plant is wearing silver loafers that match the cover of her new book. She has dark hair, an elfin look and a lop-toothed smile. She is reading How to Teach Yourself Arabic and her Camel Lights are never far away. Her publishers have lodged her at White's Hotel overlooking Hyde Park and it seems strange to be interviewing an anarchist over its white tablecloth with tinkling music in the background. After all, this is a hotel that has Horlicks on the bar menu and where the restrooms are labelled Gentlemen and Powder Room.

Plant takes the chandeliers in her stride. "They say that this hotel is like a home away from home. As if!" she says. I like her immediately because she seems so down to earth despite her CV. After all she is actually Dr Sadie Plant with a doctorate in philosophy who taught Cultural Studies for five years before helping to found the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit at Warwick University. She doesn't flaunt her Foucault, though, and has a habit of zooming off on extraordinary tangents only to suddenly switch to something quite ordinary. Thus she ends a fast-talking foray into the world of Australian cyberfeminism with the statement: "If I could choose I would just call myself a writer, though I know nobody's going to be content with that."

Nor perhaps will they be content to discover that the origin of Zeros and Ones is as everday as Plant happening to be around when her university department was computerised five years ago. She began to investigate computer culture. "There was this notion that there was something inherently male about the Net and that you really did have to be a boy nerd to deal with it. This seemed to me to be quite ridiculous. So I started off simply trying to ditch this notion of it all being masculine and quite by accident I found all these fascinating characters - such as Ada - who really did tell a very interesting story."

Ada Lovelace, the only child of Lord Byron and his mathematician wife Annabella, was the first programmer of the first "thinking machine", itself based on the loom. Ada's story is just one of the threads of female history that Plant has woven into her extraordinary theory of a future in which women and machines emerge on top. "As machines become intelligent and self-organising, so does woman. Their mutation is also hers," she writes. But she takes her thoughts to much wilder shores too: the book delves into the Mona Lisa and the Inkspots, sperm and eggs, sex and sensibilities. Its 75 mini-chapters carry headings such as "cave man", "cyberflesh", "chemicals" and "cocoons". The best idea is to read it like poetry, let it wash over you and see what sticks.

The core belief of Zeros and Ones is that women are liberated by technology and that the current genderquake is just one part of this historical process. Now, finally, we are back to Freud, hysteria and sex. She lights a Camel and explains: "The historic irony is that computing is designed to be as logical as you can get. It really is the epitome of the whole Western logical system. But now there's a move being made away from the serial logic computing that's based on a male model of thinking. The new developments point towards the idea that every computer is going to be organised a bit like the Net in microcosm. In the future, computers will function in a way uncannily like what in the nineteenth century was described as hysterical thinking. They jump around, one bit breaks down and everything flips off to another bit," she says. "You know even Freud was often writing about hysteria with some admiration. I think it is increasingly thought that a lot of the attributes that have been denigrated in that way do turn out to be pretty useful." The one label that Plant likes is that of writer and she has now left Warwick to do just that. The next book may be a novel - she says that at least she wouldn't then have to pick a subtitle - or she may return to her ambitious project about the history, use and influences of drugs. She admits to her own life having had a "certain psychedelic quality at times" and thinks the brave thing to do would be legalise them all.

And then, suddenly, we are back on ordinary ground again. This time the subject is men. Not the theory of men, or male dominance, or serial logic but the real thing. She has just returned from what was supposed to be two weeks of sun and sand on a Greek island. She'd been there a few days when she decided to go on a day trip to Turkey. "Then I saw a road sign for Istanbul and so I got a bus there and stayed for a week. I didn't know anyone. I didn't even have a guide book. That's where I'm really in my element - getting on that bus. That's me at my best and happiest. I also meant a drop dead gorgeous boy in Istanbul - a 23-year-old from Boston - and had three days of good romance. That really was the icing on the cake. I can show you photos of you like!" And with that she uncrosses her quicksilver feet and flashes a grin that leaves me in no doubt where she'd rather be.

'Zeros and Ones' by Sadie Plant is published by Fourth Estate

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

    Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

    £40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    ***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

    £30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    ***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

    £35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker