2023 Computer History Museum Prize

Winner: Kevin Driscoll, The Modem World: A Prehistory of Social Media (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2022).  


“How did the internet become social ?” is a question of great importance to experts and students, historians and digital ethnographers, as well as practitioners, new and old alike. Kevin Driscoll’s The Modem World: A Prehistory of Social Media is both a remarkably engaging story of computer-mediated networks in North America of the 1980s and an inquiry into the founding mythology of the internet, emphasizing the inadequacy of origin narratives that exclude hobbyist communities, thereby expelling the roles of bottom-up innovation, informal trust, and intrinsic motivations behind the technologies of sociability. The committee was greatly impressed by the book’s emphasis on the multiplicity of the historical experiences of early cyberspace composed of interconnecting dial up systems, each featuring idiosyncratic cultures, community-building ethics, and technical designs, as well as by the author’s exemplary handling of partial and heterogeneous sources, a real methodological tool kit for the future studies of the post-1980s computing. Effectively blending social, cultural, and technical approaches to the histories and practices of the online community building, The Modem World is particularly sensitive to treating diversity – race, gender, geography – in both the presences and the absences, and offers an insightful and important connection to today’s concerns about living in/with social media.