From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism
Author: Fred Turner
Publisher: Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006
Review Published: February 2008
Well, it's hard to be anything but grateful in the face of such thorough and generous reviews. My thanks to each of the writers -- may they all have such critics on their own next books.
I have very little to add, but I thought it might be helpful if I pointed out that it wasn't until very late in the writing process that I really knew what it was that I was writing about. Part of my confusion had to do with received accounts of the '60s. In those accounts, the New Left and the New Communalists were often squished into a single movement called the "counterculture." It wasn't until I started interviewing members of each group and discovering that in many cases, they loathed each other, that I began to challenge that view and even then, it took quite a while to believe my own evidence. The other part of my confusion had to do with figuring out what kind of actor Stewart Brand was. Sometimes he worked as a journalist, sometimes as an entrepreneur, sometimes as a festival organizer. Much work on journalism focuses on professional journalists, and of course, much work in the history of computing focuses on computing devices. What I've tried to describe here is a middle layer, a layer of folks whom sociologist Ronald Burt has called "network entrepreneurs." Brand and his colleagues changed the political valence of computing simply by gathering members of previously unconnected networks and letting them do things together. When they did, new definitions of computing, and of the social worlds around it, emerged.
That process strikes me as one that not only changed the cultural standing of computing in the past but underlies much of the way power works today in networked settings, online and off. Hopefully that's an area other folks will want to explore. If you find yourself headed that way, please do let me know.
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