Today is Ada Lovelace Day, an international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science, founded by Suw Charman-Anderson and named after the pioneering Ada Lovelace – widely regarded as the world’s first computer programmer, and described by Charles Babbage as the Enchantress of Numbers (as well as the star of Sydney Padua’s incredible The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage web comic).
Along with over 1500 other bloggers, I’ve pledged to write about a woman in technology that I admire.
Brenda Laurel is a designer, researcher and writer who focuses on interactive narrative, human-computer interaction and cultural aspects of technology. She’s described by TED as having been part of ‘several major revolutions in the way humans use computers: virtual reality, interactive narratives and gaming’.
She’s an incredible polymath who’s brought together an understanding of both arts and science – her groundbreaking 1991 book Computers as Theatre explored the incredible potential for interactive fiction created by computing technology. She’s worked as a software designer and researcher at some of the most influential Silicon Valley companies of the time (including Atari and Activision) and established herself as a talented entrepreneur through the founding of organisations like Telepresence Research (an R&D company specialising in virtual reality & remote presence), Interval Research (a legendary Silicon Valley think tank studying the connection between tech and everyday life) and Purple Moon (dedicated to producing software and communities to engage pre-teen girls). She describes the book she wrote about the experience of running Purple Moon, Utopian Entrepreneur, as “a guide to doing socially positive work in the context of business.”. The list of awesome – in both the ‘amazingly cool’ and ‘truly awe-inspiring’ senses – accomplishments goes on.
One of the standout pillars of her legacy for me is her focus on game design for girls. Much of her work stemmed from the fact that computer games seemed to be designed squarely by men, for men – leading her to research how and why girls played, their motivations, their mindsets and their values; and how to develop games to meet their wants and needs.
I love that she’s a techie and an artist, a thinker and a do-er, and has refused to be boxed in. She’s been dubbed a “digital diva”, living simultaneously in the worlds of theatre and computers, and in doing so bringing new perspectives on how we should think about the way people interact with products and services, and the way we should design these accordingly:
She brings a fresh perspective to the commonly-thought cold relationship between humans and their machines. She argues for the ubiquitousness of the technology, to the point that it resembles the kind of unity between theatre and audience, where the audience members becomes a part of the action, moving towards a single, united goal. She is also known as a proponent for the socialisation of technology to put it in the hands of ordinary people who find ways of using it to express themselves.
[ courtesy ]
Laurel shares some of the gems from her research in this 1998 TED video – it’s well worth a look:
Thanks Brenda – you’re showing the world how it’s done.