By Mike Holderness. How inevitable then that someone should write the history of a network of people who helped turn the internet from a computer science project into a mass medium. Books, however, are not a network-friendly format. One page follows another in determinedly linear and one-dimensional progression. And what a long strange trip it has been for Brand, a man whose enterprises over the past 40 years all look, according to Turner, like precursors to the World Wide Web. Back in , the public saw computers as the outward symbol of the military-industrial centralisation of power, and hippies were heading for San Francisco with flowers in their hair.
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Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. In the early s, computers haunted the American popular imagination. Bleak tools of the cold war, they embodied the rigid organization and mechanical conformity that made the military-industrial complex possible.
But by the s—and the dawn of the Internet—computers started to represent a very different kind of world: a collaborative and digital utopia modeled on the In the early s, computers haunted the American popular imagination. But by the s—and the dawn of the Internet—computers started to represent a very different kind of world: a collaborative and digital utopia modeled on the communal ideals of the hippies who so vehemently rebelled against the cold war establishment in the first place.
From Counterculture to Cyberculture is the first book to explore this extraordinary and ironic transformation. Fred Turner here traces the previously untold story of a highly influential group of San Francisco Bay—area entrepreneurs: Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth network. Between and , via such familiar venues as the National Book Award—winning Whole Earth Catalog , the computer conferencing system known as WELL, and, ultimately, the launch of the wildly successful Wired magazine, Brand and his colleagues brokered a long-running collaboration between San Francisco flower power and the emerging technological hub of Silicon Valley.
Thanks to their vision, counterculturalists and technologists alike joined together to reimagine computers as tools for personal liberation, the building of virtual and decidedly alternative communities, and the exploration of bold new social frontiers. Shedding new light on how our networked culture came to be, this fascinating book reminds us that the distance between the Grateful Dead and Google, between Ken Kesey and the computer itself, is not as great as we might think.
Get A Copy. Hardcover , 1st edition , pages. More Details Original Title. Other Editions 6. Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about From Counterculture to Cyberculture , please sign up. Be the first to ask a question about From Counterculture to Cyberculture. Lists with This Book. Community Reviews. Showing Average rating 3. Rating details. More filters. Sort order. Mar 09, Warwick rated it it was ok Shelves: history , technology-and-engineering , california , united-states , ebooks.
This is a sad story in many ways: I wonder if the author realises quite how sad it is. The story he seems to want to tell is about how the idealism and independence of the American counterculture fed into the burgeoning digital technology industry, infusing the world of early computing with radical, egalitarian ideas. But what actually comes across more strongly than anything is the notion that, even before it got started, Silicon Valley had been thoroughly coopted by right-wing politics and cor This is a sad story in many ways: I wonder if the author realises quite how sad it is.
But what actually comes across more strongly than anything is the notion that, even before it got started, Silicon Valley had been thoroughly coopted by right-wing politics and corporate interests. His major work was the Whole Earth Catalog , an odd, of-its-time publication which combined articles on self-sufficiency with mail-order listings for a range of inspirational books, DIY tools, frontiersman clothing, and assorted accoutrements.
It was popular with hippies and commune-dwellers — and, because it depended on user contributions for its reviews and editorials, it also became enormously influential among those who would go on to build the new technological world.
It was an optimistic, quintessentially American as I see it idealism which was enshrined in the first online communities like The WELL , in companies like Apple, and which was communicated to the world by Wired magazine — for all of whom the Internet, and digital communication generally, stood as the prototype of a newly decentralized, nonhierarchical society linked by invisible bits in a single harmonious network. Right-wingers began organising digital conferences, pallying up to the big names, and in return winning approbation and promotion from the digital community.
The result of all this was that, yes, the digital revolution was always dominated by ideas of self-sufficiency and non-regulation; but it was also always dominated by the welcoming of corporate control and by a generally white male technocratic sensibility, with all the positive and negative connotations those things imply. It's definitely an important story, but to be honest I felt I had to work a little too hard to make it out in this book.
I was never really convinced of Stewart Brand's central importance to the whole tale, and some chapters just seemed to devolve into lists of dates and people who worked with him on various tangentially-related projects. I had never heard of Brand before, and perhaps if you already know about him then you don't need to be told why he matters; I did, and I wasn't.
View all 6 comments. That moment in the story when Newt Gingrich hoves into view, Jabba-like, and you realize the game was rigged from the start. With people like Stewart Brand at the controls, there was That moment in the story when Newt Gingrich hoves into view, Jabba-like, and you realize the game was rigged from the start.
With people like Stewart Brand at the controls, there was never any doubt that the Internet born out of ARPA was going to be anything but an entrepreneur's playground. How was the citizens' Internet ever anything but doomed. Two moments hammered this home: 1 the aforementioned arrival of Gingrich on the scene as a cutting-edge futurist gag and 2 the scene where Brand and John Perry Barlow are invited to a forum on hacking by Harper's!!!
The dice were loaded from the start, and the hackers and one of their friends were arrested months later. I suppose you could say that. I'm not going to lie; I was swept along with Wired's mid-'90s neon cyberspace revolution hype, without realizing it was always a future run by corporations. I even thought that the breakpoint that let corporations take over the Internet was right before the first Internet bubble burst, back when I worked in "new media" after I graduate college in '97, ' But it turns out the DNA of the Internet was planned by white male libertarian technocrats.
Crucial reading if you want to understand why we ended up with the Internet we got. Dec 07, Otis Chandler marked it as to-read. James Currier recommends. View 1 comment. May 11, Michael Burnam-Fink rated it it was amazing Shelves: , academic , biography , sts , innovation. If there's an iconic figure of the 21st century, it's the technological entrepreneur.
You know the type, the saavy, cool, cutting-edge, networked, leveraged, foresighted thought leader. The kind of person who makes a lot of money by not doing better than the competition, but by blazing whole new economic sectors. That figure is a kind of mediated chimera in the mold of the Original, the central subject of this book, one Stewart Brand.
Turner's book is an intellectual career of Brand, from his iti If there's an iconic figure of the 21st century, it's the technological entrepreneur. Turner's book is an intellectual career of Brand, from his itinerant avanta-garde son et luminere artist, to his major success of the Whole Earth Catalog, to the WELL community, and finally Brand's ascension to the sage of Wired , and the entire Bay Area techster lifestyle.
It's a long and somewhat convoluted journey, interspersed with some pretty dense science and technology studies jargon, and with a few leaps of faith. It is also a masterpiece of scholarship, and a great example of what an STS book should do. For Americans in the s and s, the computer had a singular, sinister vision.
Computerization was the logic of dehumanization, of doomsday. Psychologically fragmented 'organization men' served as cogs in a horrific machine, which gobbled up nature and culture in its juggernaut like roll towards nuclear annihilation.
The actual practice of computer engineering intimately tied to defense via the needs of the SAGE air defense network and aerospace miniaturization was actually rather open, interdisciplinary, and innovative, albeit behind barbed wire fences and security clearances.
This was the culture that created Nobert Weiner's cybernetics and Claude Shannon's information theory , along with Buckminster Fuller's radical designs. There's little in Brand's childhood that distinguished him as a future radical; A midwestern suburban youth, Stanford, Army ROTC, a brief stint in the Rangers, and a job as military photographer.
But when he mustered out, with a deep feeling that 'this could not go on', he fell into the emergent counterculture. The main influence was the USCO media art collective, which combined experiments with light and sound with psychedelic drugs, but Brand made contacts everywhere.
Turner distinguishes two major threads in the 60s. The New Left were hardheaded organizers, working against racism and the Vietnam War with actions that confronted the American system. The New Communalism, which Brand became a part of, took an entirely different attitude towards social change. For New Communalism, politics itself was the problem, and consciousness was the solution.
By changing minds, individually and en mass, the counterculture could simply float out of American society. Music, aesthetics, drugs, meditation, and a return to the land symbolized a chance to break free. Brand's genius was the Whole Earth Catalog, a sprawling publication that presented the building blocks of the New Communalism between its covers, juxtaposing books, homesteading essentials, and the latest electronics as 'tools for thinking more clearly'.
The Whole Earth Catalog was an outlandish success, winning awards and selling millions of copies. But as Brand's star ascended, the New Communalism collapsed, as thousands of communes failed under the gritty problems of subsistence farming, separating from the American economy, and predatory charismatic leaders and various kinds of bums.
Many members of the New Communalist movement went back to various square jobs, but they stayed in touch, a loose network around the Bay Area.
Brand himself kept publishing and operated a small non-profit foundation focused on various artistic and technological ideas. In , Brand organized the WELL, the Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link, a message board server that linked together many of his friends and contacts in a personal computing-centric version of the New Communalism. The personal computer and networking were the technologies that Brand had been waiting for his entire life, the tools that would enable a person to craft an entirely new identity in a world free from the obsolete governments and ideologies of the past.
Brand managed a simultaneous double jump at this point. On one side, he managed to cash in, founding the Global Business Network consultancy firm, an exclusive, corporate-centric, and for-profit version of the WELL vision. For the radicals, he also helped organize the first hacker conference in , bringing together the old idealists of the s with the next generation of entrepreneurs and programmers, bringing together hippies, ruthless capitalists along the lines of Bill Gates, and semi-criminal computer crackers going by arcane message board handles handles.
Turner's story closes out with Wired magazine, and the embrace of the new business friendly high-tech cyber utopianism by Newt Gingrich. His story ends just before the first dotcom crash, and the 21st century world of FAANGs, monopolistic platforms, app stores, the sharing economy, meme warfare, and all the other problems of the late s.
From Counterculture to Cyberculture
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A Crunchy-Granola Path From Macramé and LSD to Wikipedia and Google
Stewart Brand was the consummate networker. Brand made himself at home in sites as diverse as the Fluxus happening, the Hippie commune, and Los Alamos National Laboratory; as he moved from one to the other he galvanized individuals of all political stripes to connect with each other in projects tinged with the techno-libertarian collectivist vision that Fred Turner, in his fascinating study of Brand and his worlds, calls New Communalism. Recent analysts of "digital utopianism," Turner notes, tend to simplify its origins, tracing the communitarian ethos of the early Internet back to "what they have imagined to be a single, authentically revolutionary social movement that was crushed or co-opted by the forces of capitalism. Turner's history of the New Communalism, a cultural formation as rooted in the collaborative, interdisciplinary research culture of Cold War defense science as it is in Trips Festivals and tofu potlucks, offers us a far more complex, and to my mind, more interesting and politically necessary story of how present day visions of new media came to be. If contemporary spin offers us a potent, if naive, vision of the digital network as a space where community, democracy, and economic growth can finally coexist, Turner's book is a convincing account of very tangible social networks, embodying and disavowing certain forms of power and privilege, that made such visions possible.
The pages are yellowed, the addresses and phone numbers all but useless, the products antique, the utopian expectations quaint. It is a portrait of an age and its dreams. The Internet, after all, began during the cold war as an attempt to create a network of computers that would be resilient in case of nuclear attack. Turner, who teaches in the communication department at Stanford University, is rigorous in his argument, thorough to the point of exhaustion, and impressive in his range. The basic premise, though, is not unfamiliar. And some of the anecdotal evidence is familiar. Steve Jobs created and promoted Apple as a countercultural computer company, most famously in the television ad that associated it with the demolishment of a totalitarian Big Brother.