The loom was the first piece of automated machinery. It was basically a simple system although it looks really complicated. There are horizontal rods, which connect with vertical rods with hooks. The horizontal rods interact with the punched cards which either have holes or un-perforated card (yes or no, on or off, one or zero, good or bad). If they move, then the vertical rod is moved. If the hook at the rod top is moved into the path of the griffe as it rises, then the hook is raised, and the thread is lifted. That creates the shed for the weft to pass through.
As a weaving system which withdrew control from human workers and transferred to the hardware of the machine, the Jacquard loom was bitterly opposed by workers, who saw in this migration of control, a piece of their bodies literally transferred to the machine. The Luddites opposed this automation and were supported in the House of Lords by the poet Lord Byron.
Charles Babbage, interested in the effects of automated machines on traditional forms of manufacture, published his research on the subject The Economies of Manufactures and Machinery in 1832. He later said that looking back on the early factories was like seeing prototype ‘thinking machines’.
It was the Jacquard loom that excited and inspired Babbage (maker of the Difference Engine) who went on to build his Analytic engine, in which he was greatly helped by Ada Lovelace, the only legitimate daughter of previously mentioned Lord Byron. It was Ada who commented that if the Difference engine could simply add up, the Analytic Engine was capable of performing the whole of arithmetic.
Charles and Ada developed an intense relationship and in agreeing to write the footnotes to – and to translate from the Italian – Louis Menebrea’s Sketch of the Analytic Engine invented by Charles Babbage (1842) Ada produced the first example of what was later to be called ‘computer programming’. The introduction of the principle which Jacquard devised for regulating his looms, the punched card, was copied by the pair to attain the varied and complicated processes required to fulfil the purposes of the Analytical Engine.
Reality does not run along the neat straight lines of the printed page. Only by criss-crossing the complex topical landscape can the goals of multifacedness and the establishment of multiple connections begin to be attained. Where there are a jumble of voices, ideas, and gossip, where there are people talking at the same time, where there is empathy and discourse, that’s where you‘ll find the real world of women. The Internet shatters the myth that women are victims of technological change. Weaving and typing, computing and telecommunicating, women have been tending the machinery of the digital age for generations, enjoying intimate relations with the techniques and technologies which are revolutionising the Western World today.