“The Man with a Micro-calculator”: Digital Modernity and Late Soviet Computing Practices

  • Ksenia Tatarchenko
Part of the History of Computing book series (HC)


Technology played a defining role in the socialist version of modernity across the entire life span of the Soviet state. During the 1980s, the Soviet popularizers of computing technology mobilized the expressive power of Vertov’s 1929 masterpiece, The Man with a Movie Camera. When the nation’s most prominent popular scientific magazine, Nauka i Zhizn' [Science and Life], started a column devoted to both playful and serious applications of programmable calculators, it was titled “The Man with a Micro-calculator.” In this chapter, I argue that this reference reflected a consistent late Soviet preoccupation with introducing the population to a “digital” version of the socialist technological modernity, where a modest digital device, the programmable calculator, played a key role. I trace the massive scale of diffusion of computing practices around programmable calculators during the last decade of the Soviet Union’s existence to exploit the nonlinear temporality encompassed in the notion of “early digital.” Breaking with the established chronology of hardware development culminating with the so-called ‘‘Personal Computer Revolution,’’ the “early digital” helps to reveal how the “man with a micro-calculator” was imagined as the man of the future.



This chapter is a product of many discussions with the participants at the “early digital” workshops. My special thanks are to Thomas Haigh and Paul Ceruzzi for their engaged reading of the draft version and to Sergei Frolov for sharing his knowledge about Soviet calculators.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ksenia Tatarchenko
    • 1
  1. 1.Geneva UniversityGenevaSwitzerland

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