Happy Ada Lovelace Day, everyone!
(Before I get to business, I want to remind everyone how proud and happy I am that my friend Suw is the one who kicked ALD into gear, and who thus may be instrumental in promoting the cultural memory of an admirable figure from the early days of our technological revolution. Props to Suw! Huzzah!)
This year, I’m reminding the world that “advanced technology” is always advanced relative to something else — so I’m honouring a couple of medieval saints, Catherine of Siena and Clare of Assisi.
Catherine stands out in cultural history (and especially in church history) as a self-determining woman at a time when self-determination was not only difficult, but subject to risk of prosecution; despite her comprehensive fidelity to the church and its well-being, Catherine was interrogated for suspicion of heresy.
I nominate Catherine on Ada Lovelace Day because she exemplifies the resolute determination to use every medium, every technology available to her to work for the changes she recognised to be necessary. Catherine traveled extensively, and when she wasn’t traveling she wrote letters — technologies that may seem tediously obvious to 21st-century observers, but which, in the 14th century, demonstrated Catherine’s atypical boldness and ingenuity. And indeed, her persistence in lobbying for the return of the papacy to Rome, and her continuing influence in spiritual theology, show the value of her venturesome interventions.
As the child of a prosperous family, she had access to money and opportunities that her poorer neighbours couldn’t share; but Catherine lived austerely, and drew on her family’s wealth principally to share it with the needy (it’s not clear that she herself could write, but she seems to have been able to read). One can readily imagine Catherine in another age as a prolific blogger and tweeter (although she would not have owned her own computer).
So a digital cheer to St Catherine on Ada Lovelace Day! And St Clare — well, she’s patron of telecommunications, because of her apparent capacity to see things at prodigious distance. So cheers for Clare, too!