Claire L. Evans is the author of "Broad Band," an illuminating history of the women who helped create the internet. She lives in Los Angeles with Jona Bechtolt, her longtime partner with whom she performs as the dance-pop duo YACHT (they also created a nifty app called 5 Every Day which gives users five daily reccomendations of cool things to do in LA). Smart, funny and strikingly articulate, Evans sat down with The Caret to talk about the subjects closest to her heart including her vintage computer collection, 1990s cyberfeminism and how the internet would look different if women had built it.
Hi Claire, some light internet stalking on our part revealed that your father was a longtime Intel engineer. Did you get your technophilia come from him?
Honestly, we just had computers in the house and being an only child, it doesn’t take long for one’s identity to get poured into that kind receptacle. As a kid, I played CD-ROM games. Then when I was a teen, the world wide web appeared and I came of age with it. I feel like I grew up with the computer in the sense that it was also going through a lot of changes—adolescent stirrings of its new consciousness. Of course, my dad always encouraged me but he wasn’t trying to get me to become a programmer. I think he knew from an early age that wasn’t going to be my point of interest. But that’s the great thing about computers, there’s not really a wrong way to engage with them.
When did you start your vintage collection?
That’s more recent. When I was writing the book, I kept getting accounts from people I was interviewing about their early contact with machines. So I felt like I needed to get my hands on the older computers to understand. I bought a Mac Classic and eventually a friend gave us a NeXTcube. I’m not like a hardcore collector. But I found my experiences to be really rewarding. If you look at the NeXTcube, there are elements of the user experience that survive today in Macs—like the sound effects. It’s a real mindfuck to use a 25 year-old computer. It gives you a sense of what computing felt like in a more elemental state. And, you know, they’re nice home décor objects as well.
Speaking of the book, you spoke with so many amazing women. Do you have a favorite interview?
That's like a “choose between your children” scenario. The great thing about writing a book, or any sort of project that involves other people (laughs), is that you meet an entirely new demographic of human beings. Like, I now have a Rolodex full of older women who are awesome and mean so much to me. I felt closest perhaps to the people who I’ve been able to spend time with in real life. Stacy Horn, a social networking pioneer who started a very important online community in the late 1980s, I’ve done several events with her in New York and we’ve corresponded a lot. Jaime Levy, who was an interactive designer in the early web days, lives really close to me in Pasadena so I’ve spent time with her IRL.
Did the book lead to latent recognition for any of is subjects?
Elizabeth “Jake” Feinler, an information scientist who was really fundamental to the way the ARPANET was structured. She’s in her 80s now and was inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame as a consequence of being in my book. It’s criminal because she should have been inducted years ago. She was one of the few people who were really, truly there at the beginning. I got to induct her at the ceremony. It was so special to be a part of her story and actually see what happens when you shine a light on somebody, how many more people see their contributions. So yeah, it was a full waterworks experience.