Home Computer Subcultures and Society Before the Internet Age

Home Computer Subcultures and Society Before the Internet Age

Gleb J. Albert (Department of History, University of Zurich/Zentrum Geschichte des Wissens); Julia Erdogan (Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung Potsdam); Markku Reunanen (Department of Media, Aalto University, Helsinki)
Collegium Helveticum, Semper-Sternwarte, Schmelzbergstrasse 25, 8006 Zürich
Vom - Bis
24.03.2017 - 25.03.2017
Albert, Gleb J.

The aim of the International Exploratory Workshop “Home Computer Subcultures and Society Before the Internet Age” is to bring together current research on computer subcultures at the dawn of home computing, to analyse their role in the computerisation of (post-)industrial societies, and to look at how these often marginalised user groups interacted with the state and the public. We understand computer subcultures as groups of computer users who engaged in “tinkering” with their machines and made their activity into a distinct feature of their identity, thus forming “scenes” such as hackers, crackers, demosceners, or gamers. These subcultures did not develop inside a vacuum, but evolved within a complex interplay between users, politics, lawmaking, markets, and mass media.

The workshop will bring together international scholars with the aim of going beyond just mapping and describing early home computer subcultures in different parts of the world. Instead, we want to embed computer subcultures within wider societal contexts, and in doing so, to analyse them as part of political, cultural, social and economic change in the 1980s and early 1990s. Furthermore, the workshop strives to contribute to new developments in subculture studies. It will explore the extent to which we can speak of a specific new type of digital subcultures coming to fruition in the 1980s, in an epoch that had computerisation and neoliberalisation as two defining features. Last not least, the workshop will help to historicise the roots of contemporary Internet-driven global culture. Virtually all early home computer subcultures evolved around digital communication. Thus, a focus on these pre-Internet practices will contribute to public perceptions of the Internet and its history.

The workshop is supported by:
- Schweizerischer Nationalfonds / Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF);
- Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung /Centre for Contemporary History Potsdam (ZZF);
- Department of History, University of Zurich;
- DFG Research Group “Media and Mimesis”;
- Collegium Helveticum;
- Echtzeit - Digitale Kultur;
- Digitale Kultur e.V.;
- Zentrum Geschichte des Wissens

Guests are welcome, yet they should pre-register at gleb.albert@uzh.ch before March 22 due to limited seats. The film screening on the evening of March 24, which takes place in a different venue, is open for everyone and does not require pre-registration.


Workshop Program

Friday, 24 March 2017

10:00: Thomas Hengartner (Director, Collegium Helveticum): Welcome address

10:15: Gleb J. Albert, Julia Erdogan, Markku Reunanen:

10:30: Jürgen Danyel, Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung Potsdam: Subcultures of the Digital Age. Mythbuilding, Selfunderstanding and Social Impact (Keynote)

11:15-11:45 – Coffee Break

The State of Research (11:45 – 13:15)
- Nick Montfort, Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Bringing the Home into the Computer
- Markku Reunanen, Aalto University: Demo and Cracker Studies: Who, What, Where and How?
- Canan Hastik, Technical University of Darmstadt: DEMOAGE. Towards Multidisciplinary Collaborative Digital Humanities Research

13:15-14:45 – Lunch

Subcultures Beyond the Cold-War Divide (14:45 – 15:45)
- Gleb J. Albert, University of Zurich/Zentrum Geschichte des Wissens: Freaks, Pirates and New Markets. The Cracking Scene and Software Piracy in Developing Economies (Late 1980s to Early 1990s)
- Julia Erdogan, Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung Potsdam: Divided Cultures? Hackers in East and West Germany

15:45-16:15 Coffee Break

Dial-Up Cultures: Online Sociability Before the Internet (16:15-18:15)
- Kevin Driscoll, University of Virginia: Who's Online? A Demography of Bulletin Board Systems in North America
- Matthias Röhr, Forschungsstelle für Zeitgeschichte in Hamburg: Between DBP and BBS. Modems, Bundespost and German Home Computer Subcultures
- Petri Saarikoski, University of Turku: Early History of BBS-Culture in Finland, 1982-2000
- Beatrice Tobler, Swiss Open-Air Museum Ballenberg: Mailbox Worlds. Looking Back at the Swiss Mailbox Scene of the 1990s

Film Screening “The 8-Bit Philosophy 2 – The Good and the Bad Guys” (2017, first showing) and Q&A with director Konstantin Stürz (19:00-20:30) - University of Zurich, Rämistrasse 71, Lecture theatre KOL-F-118 (Floor “F”)

20:30: Conference Dinner

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Peripheries? Computer Subcultures Beyond the “West” (10:00-11:30)
- Maria B. Garda, University of Łódź: Alternative Usage of Microcomputer Technology During the Decline of the People's Republic of Poland
- Theodore Lekkas & Aristotle Tympas [remote participant], National and Kapodistrian University of Athens: The Utopian Eighties of the Home Computer: Subcultural Communities Redefining Computing Technology. The Greek Experience
- Jaroslav Švelch, Charles University in Prague: Making Games Ordinary. Studying Hobby Computer Cultures and Computer Games of 1980s Czechoslovakia

11:30-12:00: Coffee Break

Subcultures, Technical Innovation and Computer Industries (12:00-13:30)
- Daniela Zetti, ETH Zurich: “A Sizeable, Technical Project’” 1978-80. Niklaus Wirth’s Lilith Workstation as a Tool for Software Engineering
- Patryk Wasiak, University of Wrocław: The Polish Amiga Scene: Computer Brand Community in Transitional Economy
- Ulf Sandqvist, Umeå University: The Game Industry and the Demoscene. A Short Review of the History, Archives and Research Methods from a Swedish Perspective

13:30-14:00: Lunch

Final Discussion (14:00-15:00)
- Monika Dommann, University of Zurich: Introductory Comment