The Silent Contributors of Millennial Culture: Part 1 of 2

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Jan 25 · 7 min read

Millennials have never known a world without technology.¹ Today, it is undeniable that tech has been a driving force in shaping the lives of people around the world. From shopping apps to medical devices, tech’s influence is far reaching. In a global landscape that constantly sees more and more entrepreneurs and mobile applications, it is undeniable that tech has played a major role in shaping Millennial culture.

Picture by Steve Gale.

In the first part of ‘The Silent Contributors of Millennial Culture’, we profile four women whose technical work has silently contributed to Millennial culture in more ways than they could ever have expected. We share their work, accomplishments and challenges they faced in their lives and careers.

Donna Dubinsky: Bringing the Smartphone to Market

It’s hard to imagine what Millennial culture would be without smartphones. Social media, ride sharing, food delivery, dating and banking apps are few to name that would not exist without smartphones. Where would we be without maps on our phones? With the fast evolution of smartphones, you even have AI voice assistance and it can act as ledger to hold your cryptocurrency.

Image by Priscilla Du Preez.

Entire industries would not even exist without the smartphone.

Donna Dubinsky was the CEO and Co-founder of Palm Inc., the company behind the PalmPilot, and the Co-founder of Handspring and Numenta. Although the PalmPilot was not the first personal assistant device on the market, Dubinsky was the strategic mind behind raising capital to develop the product from the prototype that her business partner Jeff Hawkins built, and bringing it to market with sales that rivalled the Walkman, VCRs and cellphones.² The PalmPilot and its popularity, has influenced the products currently out on the market and the way we live.

In an article for Recode, Donna speaks about her personal experience in Silicon Valley. She never encountered sexual harassment or hostile environments that other women have experienced. Instead she’s had tremendous support from her former bosses, investors and colleagues. Although her experience was positive, she recognizes that problems do exist in the industry; women are discriminated against and underrepresented. Her solution is to promote training, in order to recognize and overcome it. “We are making progress. But it is slow, and we need to do better.”³

Daphne Oram: The Godmother of Electronic Music

Music festivals are more popular now than ever. There’s a whole culture around it, and it would be hard to imagine it without the electronic sound we know today. Daphne Oram, a British composer and electronic musician, helped shape the sounds, and songs, we listen to today. She was a central figure in the evolution of electronic music, without her, perhaps electronic sounds may have not progressed to the level it is at now.

Modern day music festival, picture by Yvette De Wit.

Daphne Oram (31 December 1925–5 January 2003) was a pioneer of ‘musique concrete’, also known as experimental music, in the UK. She was one of the first composers of electronic sound, the first woman to direct and set up a personal electronic music studio and the first woman to design and construct an electronic musical instrument.⁴

In 1957, she started working on the Oramics technique, an innovative approach to music production where drawings on 35mm film were transformed into sounds. This technique was not only new but allowed flexibility and subtle control of the sound.

Oram wrote Still Point in 1949, which many consider as the first composition that combined acoustic orchestration with live electronic manipulation.⁵ Although Still Point was considered an innovative piece for its time, Oram was rejected by the BBC and never performed it. Still Point remained unheard for 70 years, until on June 14, 2016 when it was performed by the London Contemporary Orchestra.

When Oram initially proposed the idea for the famous BBC Radiophonic Workshop, she was not taken seriously because she was young and a woman. When it was eventually set up, the workshop was small and received little funding. After being told to take time off due to concerns of the effect of radiophonic equipment on the female body and years of frustration and fighting, she left to set up her Oramics Studio for Electronic Composition.⁶

Williamina Fleming and the Harvard ‘Computers’: The Stars and Astronomical Phenomena We Know

Astrology and fascination with the stars and universe has made a comeback, this time with an edge. In recent years, the number of websites and articles dedicated to astrology, horoscopes, and memes referencing star alignment and retrogrades increased dramatically. Millennials are fascinated by the universe and seek comfort in the stars, cosmic events and astrology, even if they don’t believe in horoscopes. It’s no surprise with the far reach of social media, that cosmic event have been getting more and more exposure. Most notably, the Super Blood Wolf Moon lunar eclipse of 2019, gained great momentum on both social media and news outlets. The group of women that helped catalog thousands of the stars, nebulas and other astronomical phenomena that we know today, were Williamina Fleming and the Harvard “Computers”. Without Fleming and the Harvard ‘computers’ contribution and discoveries, we may have not known as much about the stars as we do today.

Image of Horsehead Nebula, by Guillermo Ferla.

Williamina Fleming (May 15, 1857 — May 21, 1911) was a Scottish-American astronomer who developed a common designation system for stars. Within nine years she cataloged over 10,000 stars which were published in the Henry Draper Catalogue, and many other astronomical phenomena. During her career she discovered 59 gaseous nebulae, over 310 variable stars, and 10 novae, one of her discoveries was the famous Horsehead Nebula. She was the first of an all-women group of 80 human “computers” created by E.C. Pickering at the Harvard College Observatory.⁷ Their computational work is responsible for how we understand the universe today.

In the early years of her career, Fleming was often excluded from the credit of her discoveries, where ‘Pickering’, presumably E. C. Pickering, director of Harvard College Observatory would receive the credit instead. Although the Harvard women “computers” were famous during their lifetimes, they were unfortunately forgotten until 2015, when over 100 boxes of the ladies’ out-of-scope work were rediscovered and transcribed. Fleming openly advocated for other women and promoted the hiring of female assistants in the sciences, in her talk “A Field for Woman’s Work in Astronomy” at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.

Joan Ball: Online Dating

Swipe left. Swipe right. Most Milllennials know what that means, since 40% of online daters are Millennials.

Finding a date has never been easier. Gone are the days of blind dates and hoping to meet your perfect partner at the bar. Now, finding a date can be as simple as unlocking your phone and having hundreds of options right at your fingertips.

Image by rawpixel.

Long before dating apps and online dating websites, Joan Ball helped kickstart the evolution of online dating.

In 1964, Joan ran the first successful commercial computer dating match-up in America called Com-Pat, renamed from Eros Friendship Bureau and St. James Computer Dating Service. Com-Pat’s logical flow of matching would not focus on matching people up through their similarities, but rather according to what they did not want. Users would fill out a punch-card survey, answering about what they did not want in a prospective partner, which Ball ran through a time-shared computer which would then reveal the “match” in the system.⁷ Although she started her business in America, she found that people likely using her service would have an ‘edge’, the type of people who would be listening to the illegal pirate radio stations in the British Isles, the ‘pop pirates’. Ball creatively grew her business by advertising through the ‘pop pirates’ radio.

One year after Ball began her computer dating service, Operation Match, started by a group of three Harvard men got credited as the first computerized dating service. Losing credit for this wasn’t the only challenge she faced. She not only struggled with dyslexia but also abuse and abandonment from her mentally-ill mother at an early age. When her competitor, John Patterson’s new company, ‘Dateline’ burst on the scene, Ball’s work was once again outshined.

The technical contributions of these women has changed how millennials are dating, the music in today’s culture, knowledge of the universe and the functions of our phones. The advancement of the smartphone and its uses has opened up great potential for blockchain and cryptocurrency payment solutions. The next generation of smartphones from giants such as HTC and Samsung are blockchain-focused, an exciting step for blockchain and cryptocurrency.

Stay tuned for part two of ‘The Silent Contributors of Millennial Culture’ in the next instalment of our ‘Women in Tech series’. Who else do you believe has contributed to Millennial culture? Leave your thoughts below!



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