the computer mouse


women /\ machines

As in previous eras, technological inno- vation and new forms of automation occurred in tandem with changes in technosocial relations. The introduction of the ATM is one example of the host of new technosocial relations enabling the contemporary infor- mation economy, and we use it as yet another reinscription of the ‘female machine’. In the USA, early ATMs were sometimes associated with feminine characteristics to soften the market to this new device.

Introduced in the late 1960s (the earliest were in the UK), the ATM presented banks with potential advan- tages by reducing the number of employees required in branches (and introducing ATM surcharges). However, these benefits would only accrue if customers used the new technology. For the ATM to catch on, it had to appear user-friendly and non-threatening. As the New York Times reported, ‘Deep- seated attitudes and habits must be altered. Trust must be fostered. What one banker called “Man vs. machine confrontation” must be defused’ (Milletti 1977: 37). More specifi- cally, after the effort financial institutions invested in defining the dream teller as a young woman, they now had to re-define that dream. Some decided to defuse the ‘man vs. machine confrontation’—and get a return on invest- ments already made—by transposing specifi- cally feminine characteristics on to the ATM.

In 1973, for example, the Chicago Savings and Loan Association named their ATMs ‘Ernestine’, promising customers that ‘If you should suddenly decide to fly to Fiji on a Friday night or have the crowd in for red caviar and Slivowitz at four in the morning … visit Ernestine the Cash Machine for money the minute you need it’ (cited in Miller 1973: 219). Similarly, in another New York Times article entitled ‘Machines: the New Bank Tellers’, ATMs were referred to as ‘the ugliest teller’, but with the advantage that they ‘never get pregnant’ (Miller 1973: 219). By 1977 The Exchange Bancorporation in Florida featured ‘Miss X—the sleepless teller’ and First National Bank of Atlanta not only named their ATMs—Tillie the Teller—but even promoted ‘her personality’, claiming ‘she’s a bubbly, giggly kind of character’ (Milletti 1977: 37).7

Boyer, K., and K. England. “Gender, Work and Technology in the Information Workplace: From Typewriters to ATMs.” SOCIAL AND CULTURAL GEOGRAPHY, 2008.


The Archaeology of the Digital Periphery: Computer Mice and the Archaeology of the Early Digital Era

Computer mice also reveal the extent to which understandings of technology are dependent on use. We cannot afford to ignore materiality if we are to understand the impact which technology has had on human experience in the past. The study of mice has the capacity to tell us much about the social and cultural dynamics which surrounded the birth of the personal computer industry. Everyday hardware such as computer mice has played a significant role in our experiences of technology in the early digital age. By failing to focus on things and overemphasising innovation, conventional historical narratives will fall short of telling the full story, something we – as archaeologists – are well placed to observe, placing our contemporary views and perspectives in longer-term context.

The fact that the computer mouse required a desktop upon which to func- tion helped to ensure the persistence of the desk-based working environment and in so doing played a part in ensuring the continuity of a physical work environment which was designed with analogue technologies in mind (Strom 1994; Baldry et al. 1998). While to the contemporary computer user the mouse may seem to be trivial, it is in fact a pivotal technology which has been actively engaged in the construction of many elements of contemporary social and cultural life.

Beale, Gareth, John Schofield, and Jim Austin. “The Archaeology of the Digital Periphery: Computer Mice and the Archaeology of the Early Digital Era.” Journal of Contemporary Archaeology 5, no. 2 (July 2018): 154–73.


mouse design

Image below from Alternative computer mouse designs: Performance, posture, and subjective evaluations for college students aged 18–25 by David J. Feathers

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Images below from The Archaeology of the Digital Periphery: Computer Mice and the Archaeology of the Early Digital Era by Gareth Bealem, John Schofield, Jim Austin.

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arbitrary decision making

Microsoft mice had always had two buttons, whereas Apple went for the simplicity of one button. The decision to go with one button was a lengthy one as it meant designing the operating system software differently. Eventually, according to Jim Yurchenco, the decision to go with one button was made so that the instruction manual would be easier to write!

Paul Atkinson in the footnotes of The best laid plans of mice and men: the computer mouse in the history of computing


books i need to get in person

Dealers of lightning : Xerox PARC and the dawn of the computer age

Michael A. Hiltzik

New York : HarperCollins 2000

An inquiry into modes of existence : an anthropology of the moderns

Bruno. Latour

Cambridge, Massachusetts : Harvard University Press 2013


Pang, A. S.-K., • 2002 Jan 01


Issue 3. Page 48 - 54.

Bright Satanic Offices’: Intensification, Control and Team Taylorism

Paul Thompson • 1998

Published in Book . Page 163 - 183.


ISBN: 9780333727997


Everyday Use of the Computer Mouse Extends Peripersonal Space Representation.

The computer mouse is a tool which is used in the near space in order to act upon the far space; in this regard, it is a special tool because the space where it is used and the space where it exerts an effect are not physically connected.

Bassolino, Michela, Andrea Serino, Silvia Ubaldi, and Elisabetta Làdavas. “Everyday Use of the Computer Mouse Extends Peripersonal Space Representation.” Neuropsychologia 48, no. 3 (February 2010): 803–11.


From Counterculture to Cyberculture

Even as Brand was helping introduce the members of ARC to the com- mune-based readership of the Whole Earth Catalog, his connections to the group introduced him to the future of computing. In 1968 Dave Evans re- cruited Brand to serve as a videographer for an event that would become known as the “mother of all demos.”15 On December 9 of that year, at the Association for Computing Machinery / Institute of Electrical and Elec- tronics Engineers (ACM/IEEE)–Computer Society’s Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco, Engelbart and members of the ARC team demonstrated the NLS system to three thousand computer engineers. Engelbart sat on stage with a screen behind him depicting both himself and the text he was working on. His system was linked via telephone lines and microwave channels to a terminal at SRI. In the course of the presentation, Engelbart demonstrated the key features of the personal computer interface to come — including the mouse-keyboard-screen combination we now take for granted—for the first time ever in public. Moreover, he showed that computers could be used for complex group communications over long dis- tances and for the enhancement of individual and collective learning. By all accounts, the audience was electrified.16 For the first time, they could see a highly individualized, highly interactive computing system built not around the crunching of numbers but around the circulation of information and the building of workplace community.

Fred Turner


Where the action is : the foundations of embodied interaction

It has been a long transition from interacting with computers using a soldering iron to interacting using a mouse. It has been neither smooth nor planned. Instead, the evolution of interaction models has gone hand in hand with the evolution of technologies, models of computation, and perceptions of the roles that computers will play in our lives.

Dourish, Paul 2004


Online a Lot of the Time: Ritual, Fetish, Sign

Text messages that participants type appear on the computer display as words within speech balloons appearing beside their avatars. In some applications this text also scrolls across the bottom of the screen. In sophisticated applications avatars perform simulated body gestures and movements, and by moving a mouse or a combination of mouse/keystroke actions, participants animate their avatars with six degrees of spatial freedom (up, down, left, right, backward, and forward). Second Life “residents” can, as Leonardo Da Vinci imagined, also fly. This ability to fly through space encourages the belief that nature should be reworked according to the visual logic of a landscape painting: a panorama that might extend in any direction even though what one sees of it at any one time is bounded by a frame.

Hillis, Ken. Online a Lot of the Time : Ritual, Fetish, Sign, Duke University Press, 2009. ProQuest Ebook Central,


mouse evolution

Malcom Gladwell wrote a piece for the New Yorker titled Creation Myth Xerox PARC, Apple, and the truth about innovation. Here is an excerpt:

So was what Jobs took from Xerox the idea of the mouse? Not quite, because Xerox never owned the idea of the mouse. The PARC researchers got it from the computer scientist Douglas Engelbart, at Stanford Research Institute, fifteen minutes away on the other side of the university campus. Engelbart dreamed up the idea of moving the cursor around the screen with a stand-alone mechanical “animal” back in the mid- nineteen-sixties. His mouse was a bulky, rectangular affair, with what looked like steel roller-skate wheels. If you lined up Engelbart’s mouse, Xerox’s mouse, and Apple’s mouse, you would not see the serial reproduction of an object. You would see the evolution of a concept.

It is interesting to think that the original designs for a mouse never strayed far from silicon valley. It might seem obvious but to me its just another confirmation that these computing technologies were all built by a few dudes in a very particular part of the world and the form in which we receive and use these technologies has really not changed so much since their original 1960’s inceptions.


"our media matter most when they seem not to matter at all"

There is a paper by Ali Na called The fetish of the click: a small history of the computer mouse as vulva. This paper has driven a lot of my research to date. Na argues that since there is so little scholarship on the mouse there is a lot of room for a re-telling of the mouse’s history through a technofeminist and material lens. When discussing the idea of the mouse as ubiquitous and possibly obsolete technology Na quotes Wendy Hui Kyong Chun who in her book Updating to Remain the Same: Habitual New Media wrote: “our media matter most when they seem not to matter at all”. This is the mouse. Like Atkinson wrote, the mouse just kind of appeared alongside the computer. Nobody really sought it out and it didn’t need to be marketed. The mouse is the entry point into which we do everything digital.

This paper provided so many references for further research. I am interested Sadie Plant’s argument about technology as a part of a phallic quest, Evgeny Morozov’s “slacktivism”, Bruno Latour’s “double-click communication” and Alf Hornburg’s “technology as fetish”, not to mention one of my favorite thinkers Wendy Hui Kyong Chun.

Here is an excerpt:

As Sadie Plant argues, much of the activity around technology is part of a phallic quest of development and popularization: “Disks are sucked into the dark recesses of welcoming vaginal slits, console cowboys jack into cyberspace, and virtual sex has been defined as ‘teledildonics,’ a prosthetic extension of male membership” (Sadie Plant 1997, 181). By claim- ing the computer mouse as vulva, possibilities of bodies and sexual experiences are made multiple, and importantly the phallic penetration of primary straight male orientation is no longer the primary mode of technological engagement. Plant’s important work on teledil- donics functions as a descriptive and pervasive experience of computing. However, the computer mouse as vulva offers an important corrective to the dominance of patriarchal motifs in technology. I contend the vulva mouse presents a counter to the sexualization of technology that reinscribes a heteronormative phallocentricism. Instead of jacking in, the vulva mouse clicks, offering the power of the click or clit. More than providing a yonic alter- native to the phallic, it activates what is often portrayed and insinuated as a passive receptacle. The vulva mouse moves attention away from the port and to the intimacy of touching, entangled in fluid movements.

What does it mean for such a ubiquitous technology to be a departure from its technophallic predecessors? What kind of power lies in its ubiquity? Why has the mouse seen so little change in its 50 year life span? I think its important to include touch and gesture in this project as a part of the same research and synthesis.


paul atkinson's "the best laid plans of mice and men: the computer mouse in the history of computing"

Atkinson also notes that while the history of the mouse is enmeshed with the history of the GUI the mouse was invented 10 years before the GUI. How can I get my hands on a mouse + pre-gui computer setup?? The setup that Engelbart designed, for his mouse, was called the “oN-Line System”, later known as the “Augment” system. It included a three-button mouse, a qwerty keyboard, and a chord set. I would like to do more research into chord sets!! The Augment system is what Engelbart demoed in the “mother of all demos” which took place at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in Silicon Valley in December 1968. 50 years ago.

Even though it was invented 10 years before the GUI there is little history of it being marketed as a stand alone item. Rather it is always sold along side a computer. It became so normalized as an object in people’s every day lives (either through work or through personal computing) that its image was strong enough to symbolize computing itself. Today is looks a little different, Atkinson writes: The freedom of the wireless mouse has finally removed it from dependence on the tangible computer in any way and enabled it to represent the intangible freedom of information itself and access to a whole, world-wide, community of computer users.

What’s even more interesting about the mouse as an object in history is its relationship to gender perceptions. Typing, with typewriters and computers, was highly feminized in the workplace. Rarely would you see an image of a man typing. Even when computers were commonplace in offices they were still seen as idealized typing machines so if there was an image of a man next to a computer he would probably not be typing on it. The mouse helped to change this perception of computer as typing machine which in effect shifted perceptions around computing in general. There is possibly a lot to unpack here in regards to the entrance of the mouse and perceptions of gender but I’ll wait until Na’s paper “The fetish of the click: a small history of the computer mouse as vulva”

In the mean time…

Here is screenshot of google image results for “men using computers”:

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Notice how almost all of the men are smiling. None of them are in distress. If there is more than one person in the photo it looks like some kind of team work.

Here is screenshot of google image results for “women using computers”:

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Two of the images show women in distress. Two of the images show women using iPads. One of them shows two women being helped by two men standing above them.

It could be interesting to analyze the hands in all of these images. Are they on the keyboard? Are they on the mouse? Is only one hand being used?


free typing about mouse history

I read a paper called The best laid plans of mice and men: the computer mouse in the history of computing by Paul Atkinson, 2007. This was a good paper to read for its detailed account of the mouse’s chronological history.

The mouse was invented in 1968 by Douglas C. Engelbart who previously had done a PhD in Electrical Engineering at UoC and had researched at Stanford Research Institute. During that time, to no avail, he tried to get more people interested interactive computing. I think this requires a bit more research actually. Who else at this time was investing time into interactive computing? Finally in 1963 Engelbart made a project proposal for experimenting with different tools for interacting with information on the computer screen. He was granted money by NASA and started to do user testing for existing technologies like the track ball and the light pen. Engelbart and his colleague Bill English prototyped a new device that would measure the x-y axes in a similar manner to previous tools but with a device that had a ball and two wheels which when moved at right angles could calculate the distance between points in a two dimensional are. Atkinson notes that the display of the cursor is only a by-product of this calculation. The original design of this device, one ball, two wheels attached to potentiometers, and click buttons, stayed essentially the same for a long time.


what am i doing with this project


d r e a m My dream for this project is to have it last my whole life. I really haven’t had to push this project too hard yet because of the amount of interesting scholarship and enthusiastic feedback that has kept it going on its own. I hope that by continuing to deconstruct the computer mouse through its materiality as an object and also through analysis of its power and place in the world that I will be able to uncover new questions and thought processes for understanding some of the relationships between technology and society at large.

v i s i o n I want to perform the “mother of the mother of all demos”. I want to re-introduce the mouse, or many mice at once, in order to bring attention back to this object which has become so ubqiuitous and so necessary to our use of computers. I see myself in an auditorium, in a chair, with my computer projected behind me, performing a demo of a demo, discussing the mouse and its implications while also using the mouse in atypical ways.

g o a l My goal is to have a synthesized body of writing based on deep research. I want to be able to deliver this research in a format that is engaging and informative.

p l a n February 6 ~ outline research to date February 13 ~ go deeper into technofeminism, software as ideology, desire, gesture February 20 ~ go deeper into mouse mechanics, other projects that have re-considered the mouse February 27 ~ start to write research paper based on initial outline and new research March 6 ~ use robot js and browser extensions to prototype some alternative mouse interactions, create a museum of old mice March 13 ~ synthesize mouse interaction projects and research into a presentation/visual essay March 27 ~ re-address visual essay, go deeper into research where needed April 3 ~ research… April 10 ~ writing… April 17 ~ research… April 24 ~ writing… May 1 ~ synthesize…

I am collecting research references here.