“A Chip On Her Shoulder”by Susan L. Gerhart
This speculative autobiographical novel traces life changes in 2019 for Casey Hawk, a semi-retired computer scientist embedded in a lifelong learning community in Dellville Arizona. The spirit of the Dawn of Web Time” was booming again after the 2017 CumuLinker Trust separated advertising from personal “living data” and promoted its Whisperer CALM conversations to change the mood of the country.
Her journey begins with a Whisperer wearable art experiment for her 50th college reunion which turned into a social media fiasco. Opportunities for intergenerational contacts opened up through a researcher colleague-friend, Sally, an expert on synthetic speech living with vision loss. Sally introduces Casey to her New Mexico career reentry journalist niece Marilyn and college-bound wildfire app developer nephew Bob. A chance meeting with entrepreneurial Millennial Matt leads to multi-generational computing conversations that converge on a mutual learning project to combat a resistance movement that defaces web pages.
Back home, Casey experiences Dellville terrorism fears followed by an Internet collapse. Concerned about how society deals with risk, she hones her programming skills using the new CumuLinker Cloud environment and logic-based communication patterns. Whisperers revive her midlife relationship with a Canadian writer and defines their later life goals.
These elder characters attempt to impart to pre-CumuLinker thinkers an understanding of how computing influences history, and history influences computing, , dating back to Victorian Ada Lovelace, through wars, and odd events. Sally and Casey also dig deeply into career and personal experiences that cause a chip on one’s shoulder, especially as female computer scientists. They perform a “social media makeover” for niece Marilyn who launches a podcast series to support their web reformation project.
Events implode for everyone as the pandemic settles in leaving Casey to absorb her journey’s lesson in isolation.
The author is an early female computer scientist with a career in academia, government, and industry, specializing in software verification. She lives in Prescott Arizona with her guide dog Corky where they participate regularly in Yavapai College Lifelong Learning courses and sharing low vision tech skills.