Women who go to the trouble to get connected, learn the skills and get the necessary gear don't do it just to talk lipstick

OK, I confess - I too was a technophobe. Many years ago, I was asked what kind of computer I owned. The answer was, "Hmm, a small, beige, rounded one, I think." I meant, of course, a Commodore 64, then at the bleeding edge of home-computing technology. My geeky boyfriend who bore witness to my blasphemy went pale and almost died of embarrassment. Then he ruthlessly forced me to learn Basic, so I could get my computer to say eloquent things like "Hello, Eva, how are you?"

The sudden pleasure of getting my small, beige, rounded thing to talk to me was as intense as it was unexpected. I got hooked and since then I've never stopped playing with machines. They don't gossip, don't pay you compliments and don't want to know if you have PMT. Instead, they insist on steady, logical and dispassionate treatment.

Despite these obvious social failings, computers have been at the heart of women's interests in more ways than one. I was sold on the computing concept from the conversational point of view, although it took me six more years before I could experience the Internet and chat with real people instead of my "imagined" Basic-programmed characters. Then the interest became a passion and, soon after, an addiction.

But along with other women, I soon discovered one of the downsides of linking our computers to the Net - the overwhelmingly male presence in the online community. Women were sought after, but as objects of digital desire rather than as partners and co-builders of cyberspace. The only areas allocated to us were marketing-led artificial gender ghettoes such as Women's Wire. The commercial failures of these projects was predictable - women who go to the trouble to get connected, learn the skills and get the necessary gear don't do it just to talk lipstick.

I've found that the only common denominator for all of us f-email users is an interest in technology and what it can do for our careers, professional development and, of course, earning abilities. Typical topics from women's magazines such as "how to get a man (and his money)" or "59 ways to have sex with your boss" don't seem very interesting compared with configuring your laptop to pick up your e-mail via a mobile phone, learning a new trick with Macromedia Director 6 or exploring the world full of goodies at shareware.com.

Fortunately, a lot has changed in the gender make-up of online users. In fact, now women are the architects and engineers of the wired world. For example, every time you use an intelligent agent, think about firefly.com, one of the pioneers of personalisation technology for the delivery of music products. The brain behind it is Patti Maes, a professor from MIT. Like me, Patti got into computers via linguistics and made it her mission to help us find the right products and make good use of personalisation tools for smart information management. She has managed to combine good ideas with a sharp business sense. Firefly has just launched a new version and is working with the major online services as well as with top search engines, providing tools for the much-loved My Yahoo.

Women are also behind the products that we will use tomorrow, the most exciting of which is Marimba's "push technology", which will broadcast information to our PCs. The brain behind Marimba, Kim Polese, is helping to define the future shape of the Web. She was also the marketing brain behind Java, and even if she were to retire tomorrow, cyberspace would have a lot to thank her for.

One of the key strategic decisions made in 1996 was Apple's acquisition of NeXT, which shifted the paradigm of the Macintosh operating system. The person behind this dramatic development was Ellen Hancock. As Apple's chief technology officer, she defined Apple's strategy for the next few years.

Closer to home, Jo Boatman, of Channel Cyberia, was responsible for redefining scheduled online entertainment. Her concept of channels and schedulers introducing time to the Web experience is now being implemented by Microsoft Network and AOL.

Yahoo and Excite have set up shop in the UK with women at the helm. Gail Robinson, editor of Internet magazine, is reshaping the Net press in the brave, new post-Wired world, and the girls from thepassion.co.uk have added a bit of spice to Web content, combining great sensitivity with cool technical competence.

Completing this shortlist of key women in technology in 1996 is a mentor of mine, Stacy Horn. Stacy founded the first women and "non-techie" oriented BBS in New York in 1993. It was called echo.com and lived for many months as a rack of modems above Stacy's bed in her tiny SoHo apartment. She singlehandedly built the first settlement on the electronic frontier and struggled to make it friendly, easy and useful for non-Unix heads.

These are the female pioneers of cyberspace. They should be an inspiration to us alln

eva@never.com

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Web Developer - ASP.NET, C#, MVC - London

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Web Developer -...

Ashdown Group: .NET Developer : ASP.NET , C# , MVC , web development

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits - see advert: Ashdown Group: .N...

Guru Careers: 3D Package Designer / 3D Designer

£25 - 30K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an exceptional 3D Package Designer / 3...

Guru Careers: Interior Designer

£Competitive: Guru Careers: We are seeking a strong Middleweight / Senior Inte...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss