Computer culture emerged in Canada through the convergence of a unique history and government policies

TROY, NY – “There is a standard story about how computers developed that is centered around Silicon Valley; this myth of the creation of the computer as a uniquely American cultural and social phenomenon,” said Michel Century, Professor in the Department of Arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “This story is not fake, but it’s not the whole story.”

In his new book, Northern Sparks: Innovation, Technology Policy and the Arts in Canada, from Expo 67 to the Internet Age, Professor Century details insights and observations gained as a producer and creator of new media art and as a digital policy advisor to the Canadian government. He brings a unique perspective to the emergence of the digital age in a uniquely Canadian narrative, which revolves around the social, technological and political history of Canada from the late 1960s to the early 1990s.

“I had this privileged position to examine in depth the interconnections between arts and technology,” Professor Century said. “I began to see that the computer would become a common tool to enable interdisciplinary work in the arts in unprecedented ways.”

He places the beginning of his account of Canadian digital culture at Expo 67, Montreal’s transformative World’s Fair, when “the nation was undergoing a palpable political reinvention alongside the celebration of its centennial, and artists were raising the slippery challenge of defining what that might mean”. talk about a uniquely Canadian culture.

The creative sparks from that initial momentum set the stage for what he calls a uniquely Canadian “tech ethos,” where emerging technologies were shaped and co-invented by experimental artists. Professor Century further argues that the innovations made by the artists resonated with the political consciousness of the time and were nurtured by government policies responding to an era of national modernization.

In Northern SparksProfessor Century uses case studies in animation, virtual reality and software applications, among others, to illustrate how art, technology and politics have intersected in Canada in ways that are distinct for this particular time and this particular country.

He ends his analysis in the early 1990s, when the World Wide Web made the Internet ubiquitous and Canadian cultural policy changed to adapt to the new pressures of globalization.

“This book gives you an in-depth experience of one of those creative moments in history when artist, technologist, researcher and policy maker all came together around a spirit of innovation that coincided with a period of national reinvention,” Professor Century said. “Canadian history serves as an instructive object lesson now and for the future, in the full range of its broad scope and multiple methods of mobilizing arts, politics and innovation.

Northern SparksProfessor Century’s first book, will be published by MIT Press in June 2022.

About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is America’s premier technological research university. Rensselaer comprises five schools, over 30 research centers, over 140 academic programs including 25 new programs, and a vibrant community of over 6,800 students and 104,000 living alumni. Rensselaer faculty and alumni include more than 155 National Academy members, six National Inventors Hall of Fame members, six National Medal of Technology winners, five National Medal of Science winners and one Nobel laureate of physics. With nearly 200 years of experience advancing scientific and technological knowledge, Rensselaer remains focused on solving global challenges with a spirit of ingenuity and collaboration. To learn more, please visit www.rpi.edu.

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