Talk at Deutsches Museum on the History of Information Systems in Administration

Ricky Wichum (ETH Zurich): The Emergence of Bargaining Zones. Digital Information Systems in the Swiss Federal Administration (1960-1990)

When? Monday, Nov. 28, 4-6pm

Where? Alter Seminarraum, Deutsches Museum

More information:

The digital has a history. What machine learning methods are today were once Random-Access Memories, time sharing operating systems or databases. They all offered a new economy of the digital, new expectations of the digital future and new histories of the digital past. In my presentation, I will examine the sociotechnical change that took place in the name of “information systems” in the Swiss Federal Administration in the 1970s. Drawing on sources of the Swiss Federal Archive and computer literature of this time, I will exemplify this sociotechnical change in the name of “information systems” by following the journey of a delegation of computer and administrative experts. They left for the United States in 1966 on behalf of ETH Zurich to study time sharing as a future use of digital resources. The concept of time sharing focused on the needs of users and their interaction with the machine. The delegation’s study of time sharing systems led to a re-evaluation of the existing configuration of machines, people, and regulations in the Federal Administration. The Swiss experts realized that procedures for accessing the digital space had to change if administrators, rather than primarily computer specialists, were to use digital resources for their work, as the information systems concept envisioned.

Ricky Wichum is a Senior Lecturer (Oberassistent) at the Chair of History of Technology, ETH Zurich. He is currently working on the SNF project “Trading Zones. Computer and Swiss Federal Administration, 1960-1990”. Further research interests are the sociology of securitization and the epistemology of sociological theories.

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