Origin Stories: Plantations, Computers, and Industrial Control
The blueprint for modern digital computing was codesigned by Charles Babbage, a vocal champion for the concerns of the emerging industrial capitalist class who condemned organized workers and viewed democracy and capitalism as incompatible. Histories of Babbage diverge sharply in their emphasis. His influential theories on how “enterprising capitalists” could best subjugate workers are well documented in conventional labor scholarship. However, these are oddly absent from many mainstream accounts of his foundational contributions to digital computing, which he made with mathematician Ada Lovelace in the nineteenth century.1 Reading these histories together, we find that Babbage’s proto-Taylorist ideas on how to discipline workers are inextricably connected to the calculating engines he spent his life attempting to build.