the computer mouse


focusing on gender and science and technology studies

reading judy wacjman. she writes on feminist theories of technology. im trying to focus my thesis for this project > something about the mouse being an object that is responsible for shifting perceptions of technology and its relationship to society through the lens of gender theory.

something about the mouse taking the pressure of off typing and automating computing. wacjman writes “there is an important link between women’s status as unskilled and low-paid workers, and the uneven pace of technological development.” she is talking about the clothing industry here. where there is an abundance of workers who know how to sew (read women) then technological change and automation becomes stagnant. thinking about how the mouse may have helped to remove women from the early days of the computing industry. it automated the computer as typing machine allowing it to be more than just a typing machine. she also writes “As we have seen, some technologies are designed for use by women to break the craft control of men.”


on that pc magazine article...

There is a byline in a 1983 PC Magazine article that says, “Mice allowed programmers the luxury of working without taking their eyes off the screen”. What is this luxury? Is luxury a stand in for efficiency and speed? This makes me think of the luxury of things like Uber or Amazon or Caviar. Has luxury always been about efficiency and therefore divisions of labor? Is the mouse representative of the divisions of labor for computing to happen? If programmers don’t need to look down at their keys in order to press in the exact combination for a process are things, then sped up so that programmers don’t have to think for one second about what they are doing? About how what they might be doing might also have an effect in the real world?

The same 1983 article mentions “Early mouse-users were mostly men”. Neither of the bylines I include here are mentioned anywhere in the actual article. They are just sitting there like little graphic after thoughts of the terribly written article. It makes me think of early programmers being mostly women. What is this shift from women as programmers to women as typists, from men mouse users to men as programmers?


this website says it all

a gold mine: o l d m o u s e





new questions

in the context of computing, what is not a mouse? what are the things we do without a mouse?

with the intro of the apple newton in which the machine learned to read messy handwriting. then the more successful palm pilot was introduced and we had to adapt our hand writing to the machine. how much adapting to machines do we do and how much do machines adapt to us? where on the specture does the mouse sit? what about the keyboard?

what is the implication of having many cursors for different tasks or even different users?


the 4 dimensions through which i am approaching this project

(illusion) phys. control w/ in digital space, mouse movement + mental processes, spatial freedom >>>>>> mouse as not a metaphor, structure as not intuitive, archaeological study of the mouse, materiality of the mouse >>>>>> technology and gender, the phallic quest, mouse as subverting and as a counter to engagement with technology as primarily technophallic (joysticks, usbs into ports, disks into slots), power of click, power of touch, “early mouse users were mostly men”, “women as computers”, from women as programmers, to women as typists, from men as mouse users, to men as programmers >>>>>> history of the mouse & process of its development, from light pen to joystick to chord set to mechanical mouse to optical mouse to touch pad, from x and y to complete spatial freedom >>>>>> (repeat)


what is intuitive design

There’s nothing intuitive about the mouse. It’s a completely alien piece of hardware, found only with computers. The only clue to its function is the presence of an unlabeled button or two. What’s it for? How do you use it? With so few clues to work with, users are likely to make inferences based on superficial visual or functional similarities. Point it at the screen and click it like a garage door opener or remote control? Why not, if that’s how you’re used to controlling gadgets? It supposed to be some kind of pointer device. Pointer, eh? So you press it against the screen and click the button to point at something, right? Got some office dictation experience in your past? Well, you might just recognize the mouse as a foot pedal. And darn cheaply made one, at that (frankly that one makes a lot of sense: given you need both hands to work the keyboard, why would we want to overload users with another hand control?).

by Michael Zuschlag


stark trek



on metaphor

The familiar mouse is not metaphoric of anything but rather is learned idiomatically. That scene in Star Trek IV where Scotty returns to twentieth-century Earth and tries to speak into a mouse is one of the few parts of that movie that is not fiction. There is nothing about the mouse that indicates its purpose or use, nor is it comparable to anything else in our experience, so learning it is not intuitive. However, learning to point at things with a mouse is incredibly easy. Someone probably spent all of three seconds showing it to you your first time, and you mastered it from that instant on. We don’t know or care how mice work and yet we can operate them just fine. That is idiomatic learning.

The Myth of Metaphor by Alan Cooper, Chairman & Founder


mouse movement

Looking at Jon Freeman’s MouseTracker software. Freeman is a researcher and runs the Social Cognitive and Neural Sciences Lab at NYU. The MouseTracker software attempts to analyze mouse movement and how to relates to mental processes in real time.


list of interactions


delay mouse movement ~ slow computing down

control amount of clicks ~ labor of the click click 10 times to open, 5 times to close

subvert mouse positon ~ disobedient mouse

extremely large cursor icon that covers 80% of window??



gender not as pre-cursor to but as enacted through techno tools and practices


~ checkpoint ~

It has become clear to me that many small decisions made in Silicon Valley are made arbitrarily. In the “mother of all demos” Doug Engelbart laments that they kept the name of the mouse. He mentions during the demo that he’s not sure why they called it the mouse. What other decisions have been made like this?

When Engelbart first introduced the mouse he was using it with a text-based interface. Remember, this invention pre-dated the graphical user interface by 10 years. In addition to describing the mouse, with its two wheels, each attached to a potentiometer producing a voltage output which is then sampled by a converter. The mouse at the time could only move vertical and horizontally. He was also using a keyboard and chord set which apparently allowed him to edit text twice as fast as any system we have today. It costs $350 to build and had to be assembled by hand. When Bill English went to Xerox Parc he only took the mouse with him and replaced the wheels with a ball so that the mouse could move in any direction. What kinds of feeling does being able to move your mouse virtually anywhere on the screen produce? Perhaps it is here where we experience as computer programmers this illusion of power and as computer users this illusion of control.

And now, in 2019, 50 years later, I wonder where does the trackpad fit in? It is said that although the trackpad is perhaps more ubiquitous than the mouse it will never be as precise for pointing and clicking. People who work with three dimensional software or large spreadsheets or any kind of computational process that requires a lot of precise pointing and clicking prefer the mouse to the trackpad. Why exactly is it that the mouse, as an extension of our arm, allows us to be the most precise? Is it because we are holding something that has weight? Is it because we are moving parts of our arms as opposed to parts of our hand?

There is a sensuality and a softness associated with the mouse. Ali Na, in her paper “The fetish of the click: a small history of the computer mouse as vulva”, expands on this by re-claiming the history of the mouse through a feminist lens. The mouse is an technology that you hold and touch. It has a yonic shape. It does not look like its phallic predecessors and does not act as a repository or port of other things to go into. It is powerful because of its shape and forces the person holding it to handle it with care.

The mouse is a technology original meant for interactive computing. It was not invented for the GUI, rather he GUI needed the mouse. It was not invented for the metaphorical desk and the metaphorical filing of documents. The personal computer exploited the technology of the mouse and now instead of creating collaborative text documents we are hopelessly scrolling and clicking, our desires being capitalized on and changed by behavioral modifications systems like Google and Facebook. We are doing all of this at our desks, through our desktops, in our laps, on our laptops, with the mouse. Computation requires creativity. We are stuck with metaphors and abstraction and the extreme limitations of the screen. I don’t think making computing spatial, three dimensions or closer to reality will solve any of the philosophical problems we face. It will just create new ones. This is why the mouse is such an important vehicle for understanding the effects computation has on society.

The mouse at 50:


tale of the mouse

a weird article about the entrance of the mouse as a piece of ubiquitous technology

Screen Shot 2019-02-26 at 1.03.02 PM

Screen Shot 2019-02-26 at 1.02.47 PM

PC Mag in February 1983.



Ernestine the Cash Machine


two atkinsons

When thinking about the computer mouse you are either a Paul or a Bill. Bill Atkinson, one of the earliest hires at Apple, is responsible for the design and development of the GUI. Paul Atkinson is a historian who focuses on computing technologies and has written a lot about the computer mouse.


women and machines

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.

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





archaeology of the 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.

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 designs

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

Screen Shot 2019-02-20 at 10.35.30 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2019-02-20 at 10.41.53 AM

Screen Shot 2019-02-20 at 10.42.00 AM

Screen Shot 2019-02-20 at 10.42.06 AM



what is actor network theory


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,

The Making of the Mouse, Pang, A. S.-K., • 2002 Jan 01, Published in Journal AMERICAN HERITAGE OF INVENTION AND TECHNOLOGY. Volume 17. Issue 3. Page 48 - 54.,

Bright Satanic Offices’: Intensification, Control and Team Taylorism, Paul Thompson • 1998, Published in Book . Page 163 - 183. Publisher:MacMillan, ISBN: 9780333727997


peripersonal space

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.


mother of all demos

Even as Brand was helping introduce the members of ARC to the commune-based readership of the Whole Earth Catalog, his connections to the group introduced him to the future of computing. In 1968 Dave Evans recruited Brand to serve as a videographer for an event that would become known as the “mother of all demos.” 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 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.

From Counterculture to Cyberculture - Fred Turner

mouse as vulva

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 claiming 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 teledildonics 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 alternative 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.

Na, Ali. “The Fetish of the Click: A Small History of the Computer Mouse as Vulva.” Feminist Media Studies 18, no. 2 (March 4, 2018): 221–34.


moad artifacts





emodied 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.

Where the action is : the foundations of embodied interaction, Dourish, Paul 2004


spatial freedom

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,



office technology has always been gendered and representative of gendered divisions of labor


who made the mouse

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.


~ checkpoint ~

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 about triple click?


wendy, ali, sadie

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.

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.



techno and social as always shaping each other


mice and men

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”:

Screen Shot 2019-02-18 at 2.24.44 PM

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”:

Screen Shot 2019-02-18 at 2.24.31 PM

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?


i dont know

Screen Shot 2019-02-27 at 10.33.51 AM


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.