Space, text and selfhood: encounters with the personal computer in The Mass Observation project archive, 1991-2004

Baker, James and Geiringer, David (2018) Space, text and selfhood: encounters with the personal computer in The Mass Observation project archive, 1991-2004. Contemporary British History. ISSN 1361-9462

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While the advent of the home computer in 1990s Britain has been well documented by historians of computing and technology, there remains little research on the everyday experience of this phenomenon. In this article, we use material held in The Mass Observation Project (MOP) archive to explore the way men and women in late-modern Britain experienced and understood the changes brought about by home computing. The reflexive and yet private nature of responses held in the MOP archive make it an important window into the cultural and social contexts in which personal computers were encountered. Our research indicates that the advent of the home computer brought about a number of historically-specific changes in the way Mass Observers scribed and composed their written communications. The processes through which people turned ideas into text were irreversibly recalibrated by the possibilities of saving, editing, copy and pasting on screen. As personal computer resources moved from being predominantly accessible at work to being a staple part of the home, the lines between labour and leisure, business and pleasure and the personal and the professional were blurred. Ultimately, evidence from the Mass Observation Archive indicates that the advent of the home computer had a significant effect on the processes through which individuals composed a sense of self on a day-to-day basis. It introduced new tensions, possibilities and anxieties to the act of negotiating a ‘modern’ identity. Building on this insight, our paper makes interventions in two areas: the history of writing and the history of the home. Placed alongside one another, these findings open up suggestive new questions for the heavily contested historiographical trope of the late-modern ‘self’.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: late-modern, personal computer, selfhood, writing, the home, mass observation
Schools and Departments: School of History, Art History and Philosophy > History
Research Centres and Groups: Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research
Sussex Humanities Lab
Subjects: D History General and Old World
Depositing User: James Baker
Date Deposited: 12 Oct 2018 15:07
Last Modified: 05 May 2020 01:00

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