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In the early 1960s, 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 1990s—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 1960s, 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 1990s—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 1968 and 1998, 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.


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In the early 1960s, 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 1990s—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 1960s, 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 1990s—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 1968 and 1998, 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.

30 review for From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism

  1. 4 out of 5

    Warwick

    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. 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 corporate interests. Newt Gingrich on the cover of Wired, August 1995 Turner's basic argument is that the digital communications world was always a hybrid of two different legacies – ‘that of the military-industrial research culture, which first appeared during World War II and flourished across the cold war era, and that of the American counterculture’. Where the prevailing narrative sees 1960s youth culture as a rejection of the cold war world, Turner instead goes to great (possibly tedious) lengths to demonstrate that, in fact, ‘the communards of the back-to-the-land movement often embraced the collaborative social practices, the celebration of technology, and the cybernetic rhetoric of mainstream military-industrial-academic research.’ Symbolising this productive mixture, in Turner's view, is the mercurial writer-cum-businessman-cum-futurist Stewart Brand, who spent the 1960s as one of Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters, and, now aged 77, is still going strong as an active director of various eco-technological think-tanks and quangoes. 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. Steve Jobs, for instance, called the Whole Earth Catalog ‘one of the bibles of my generation…sort of like Google in paperback form’. Some pages from the Whole Earth Catalog…‘an overflow of information’ It's hard to overstate the adulation with which the kind of people who read the Catalog greeted the emergence of microcomputers and digital communications. For them, the interconnectedness of an online world offered ‘the image of an ideal society: decentralized, egalitarian, harmonious, and free’. 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. […C]yberspace offered what LSD, Christian mysticism, cybernetics, and countercultural “energy” theory had all promised: transpersonal communion. However, it turned out that this vision of self-sufficiency and entrepreneurship with minimal government interference was – as Turner puts it – ‘in many ways quite congenial to the insurgent Republicans of the 1990s’. Right-wingers began organising digital conferences, pallying up to the big names, and in return winning approbation and promotion from the digital community. And unfortunately, just as the countercultural call for ‘responsibility for the people’ was taken up by Republicans, so also was a general turning away from the poor and disadvantaged, and indeed away from non-white populations, that had characterised many of the countercultural projects like the back-to-the-land movement. 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. This was recommended to me over What the Dormouse Said, a book which came out at the same time and which tells a similar story – I'd be interested to know if that one would have suited me better, because this – although the story it tells is fundamentally interesting – is a bit of a slog.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Michael Grasso

    That moment in the story when Newt Gingrich hoves into view, Jabba-like, and you realize the game was rigged from the start. This book, while a fantastic look at how technocratic Cold War impulses were dusted with a pinch of countercultural fairy dust (mostly of the kind that heavily uses self-reliant "frontier" imagery, which is of course problematic on *so* many levels) to create the modern Internet, is as fascinating as it is sobering. 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. This book, while a fantastic look at how technocratic Cold War impulses were dusted with a pinch of countercultural fairy dust (mostly of the kind that heavily uses self-reliant "frontier" imagery, which is of course problematic on *so* many levels) to create the modern Internet, is as fascinating as it is sobering. 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. Again, it could have been different, but the theoreticians of the Cold War pure computer research world went to work for Shell and AT&T instead of universities or government. 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 (!!!) and invite two patsy hackers to represent "the dark side" (a.k.a., the anti-corporate side) of hacking. The dice were loaded from the start, and the hackers and one of their friends were arrested months later. Coincidence? 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, '98. 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.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Otis Chandler

    James Currier recommends

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sebastian

    This book shed light on how the many threads of contemporary cyberculture interrelate. It's no accident that there is a loose affinity between the EFF, Wired, and Burning Man. Now I know why. This book shed light on how the many threads of contemporary cyberculture interrelate. It's no accident that there is a loose affinity between the EFF, Wired, and Burning Man. Now I know why.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Michael Burnam-Fink

    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. 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 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 1950s and 1960s, 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. Xerox PARC stocked it's library by getting one of everything in the WEC. PARC has a much better claim on building the digital modernity than anyone in Turner's book, see Markoff's What The Dormouse Said for details. 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 1985, 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 1984, bringing together the old idealists of the 1960s 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 2010s. Turner is up front about the seductive power of Brand's vision. These days, when PCs are pocket sized and John Berry Barlow's cyberspace frontier fenced in by tech titans, it's easy to sneer. But Brand imagined a better world, and with great humor and self-effacement, brought together the people who made it happen. Stewart Brand is not exactly a household name, yet he's indirectly responsible what makes my household different than my parent's household (and yes, my mom does have a paper copy of The Last Whole Earth Catalog on a shelf somewhere). At the same time, the important parts of Brand's vision never real worked. Consciousness may have been raised temporarily, but always fell back to earth. The new communities failed almost instantaneously. In practice, the new pioneers were very male and very white, same as the last bunch. The web was commercialized, and the ungoverned spaces are not democratic forums, but nightmarish collective ids; our darkest desires for violence, drugs, pornography made real. A few decades on, the legacy of digital utopianism is a clearly one of collapse into incoherence. But what saves this book is the grace of love. Turner loves his subject, he loves the possibilities, and that love shines through. There are more adjectives than a typical academic editor would allow, and that's something I love. Turner shows how it's possible to offer critique without being critical.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Scott Holstad

    This book was a massive disappointment. I had been wanting to read it for so long and had really been looking forward to it. I had heard about the Whole Earth Catalog and Whole Earth Review and their respective influences for years, and I had been on The WELL for over a decade myself ([email protected]) and thought it was the best BBS ever devised, and of course Wired Magazine was awesome, so I knew this book had to be cool as hell. Boy, was I wrong. I actually almost finished it, almost made it 300 This book was a massive disappointment. I had been wanting to read it for so long and had really been looking forward to it. I had heard about the Whole Earth Catalog and Whole Earth Review and their respective influences for years, and I had been on The WELL for over a decade myself ([email protected]) and thought it was the best BBS ever devised, and of course Wired Magazine was awesome, so I knew this book had to be cool as hell. Boy, was I wrong. I actually almost finished it, almost made it 300 pages through before giving up in disgust. I don't know how you could take such a COOL topic or topics such as Stewart Brand, 60s/70s counterculture, the invention and growth of the Internet, the importance of the Whole Earth Catalog, the influence of The WELL, the influence of Wired, the growth of the New Economy, and so much more, and make it SO DAMN BORING!!! God, this book sucks. It reads like a bad doctoral dissertation, which I guess should come as little surprise since Turner got his PhD at UC San Diego and taught or teaches at Stanford. He's writing to his academic cronies and I guess he's writing to impress them, but it's definitely not for laymen, because he takes a chronology of events, times, places, people, things, happenings, big ideas, etc, et al, and bores you to tears while also beating you over the head with redundancy until you want to bash your head into a concrete wall. This is frankly one of the worst written books I've ever had the misfortune to read and I have no doubt that if ANY other decent writer out there had undertaken to write a book about similar topics, they could have written an engaging, enlightening, entertaining and cool book that would have captured most readers' attentions. Instead, this garbage kills any interest I've ever had in the subject and I'm almost embarrassed now to have been on such a cool and influential BBS as The WELL after Turner has turned his destructive powers of total boredom on it. I'm giving the book two stars instead of one because the topic is good, but the book is not. Most definitely not recommended. I can't stress that enough.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Craig Werner

    Extremely interesting to read a book--very good in its own terms--that was written by an informed historian at a time when it made sense to contemplate the possibility that the new digital technologies would lead us to a Utopian world of human connection that subverted capitalist modes of domination. Not quite. For me, though, the center of the book is the first half or so that explores the counterculture's combination of pastoral utopianism (think communes--especially those like New Buffalo outs Extremely interesting to read a book--very good in its own terms--that was written by an informed historian at a time when it made sense to contemplate the possibility that the new digital technologies would lead us to a Utopian world of human connection that subverted capitalist modes of domination. Not quite. For me, though, the center of the book is the first half or so that explores the counterculture's combination of pastoral utopianism (think communes--especially those like New Buffalo outside Taos and Drop City near Trinidad, Colorado) and an embrace of technologies with their roots in the Cold War military-industrial complex. Turner has researched the field thoroughly and he makes effective use of Peter Gallison's notion of "contact zones" as sites of multidisciplinary interchange to describe the way Stewart Brand adapted Norbert Weiner, Buckminister Fuller and Marshall McLuhan as he was assembling the Whole Earth Catalog. I've just recently read through the related literature and its one of the strongest subfields of Sixties studies. It doesn't matter whether you read this or Counterculture Green first, but together they make an absolutely convincing case for the Whole Earth Catalog as one of the most important, if slightly misunderstood, aspects of the Sixties.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sara Watson

    Turner presents a clear articulation of the rhetorical and ideological history of Silicon Valley, drawing a direct line of influence from counterculture communalism all the way through to = utopian visions of the early internet’s potential for social empowerment and connection at small and intimate scales. He also accounts for the sometimes paradoxical focus on neoliberal individualism and communal openness expressed by technologists. As such, Turner’s work holds up as useful primer for unpackin Turner presents a clear articulation of the rhetorical and ideological history of Silicon Valley, drawing a direct line of influence from counterculture communalism all the way through to = utopian visions of the early internet’s potential for social empowerment and connection at small and intimate scales. He also accounts for the sometimes paradoxical focus on neoliberal individualism and communal openness expressed by technologists. As such, Turner’s work holds up as useful primer for unpacking the rhetoric and ideology behind ongoing political and market forces that continue to play out in Silicon Valley battles involving companies like AirBNB and Uber. Turner also describes at length the “cultural entrepreneurialism” work of this network, acting not as journalists, but as what will later become known as “thought leaders,” “influencers,” “gurus” of technology culture, publishing their ideas and shaping the cultural discourse. Repetitive at times, the seams of stitched together academic papers show through from chapter to chapter. And though focused on revealing the importance of a political and cultural ideology within a network of people, Turner tells the story from the perspective of the lone genius entrepreneur. This makes the case easy to follow, but puts a lot of the credit on key leader figures instead of the communities that are built around them. No doubt, these leaders had and continue to have operative roles in shaping the discourse and the networks they built up, but as a structuring and narrative lens, it now feels incomplete or lopsided to focus primarily on the many published manifestoes of those voices.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Streator Johnson

    A Little to academically dry for my tastes, but an interesting book nonetheless. It basically argues that the counterculture ethos of the the 1960's had a profound affect on the libertarian formation of what has come to be called cyberspace. Told in a historical manner with a careful agenda, it is often makes for a fascinating read. But unfortunately, it also gets so caught up in its own brilliance that one gets so frustrated they want to throw the book across the room. Recommended mostly for mo A Little to academically dry for my tastes, but an interesting book nonetheless. It basically argues that the counterculture ethos of the the 1960's had a profound affect on the libertarian formation of what has come to be called cyberspace. Told in a historical manner with a careful agenda, it is often makes for a fascinating read. But unfortunately, it also gets so caught up in its own brilliance that one gets so frustrated they want to throw the book across the room. Recommended mostly for modern history buffs.....

  10. 4 out of 5

    Doug

    A fascinating look into the history of the internet, centered around the life and times of Stewart Brand. I had not heard of Brand before this book, and feel that the book presents his life in an idealised manner. I found some segments fascinating, whilst others seemed very inconsequential, with many names and connections mentioned that never seemed hugely relevant. Nonetheless, the story, from LSD-fuelled commune trips to burgeoning start of the modern internet, is very interesting, and well wo A fascinating look into the history of the internet, centered around the life and times of Stewart Brand. I had not heard of Brand before this book, and feel that the book presents his life in an idealised manner. I found some segments fascinating, whilst others seemed very inconsequential, with many names and connections mentioned that never seemed hugely relevant. Nonetheless, the story, from LSD-fuelled commune trips to burgeoning start of the modern internet, is very interesting, and well worth exploring further.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    If you ever listen to people with advanced degrees in English, you'll hear things like "narrative context", "semiotics", and "the rhetoric of making a difference." For the most part, it's all crap. This book is written by a guy with an advanced degree in English, yet it is completely readable and shows how things like narrative context can lose the scare quotes and actually be important to the way our world develops. That said, you should have a strong interest in either the counterculture moveme If you ever listen to people with advanced degrees in English, you'll hear things like "narrative context", "semiotics", and "the rhetoric of making a difference." For the most part, it's all crap. This book is written by a guy with an advanced degree in English, yet it is completely readable and shows how things like narrative context can lose the scare quotes and actually be important to the way our world develops. That said, you should have a strong interest in either the counterculture movement of the sixties or the development of nineties cyberculture (especially the Well and Wired magazine) if you plan on picking up this book. Here is an interview with the author.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Chuck

    This well-written, well-researched book was disappointing to me. Stewart Brand clearly forged important links between the counterculturalism of the 1960s and the libertarian, cyber networks of our time, but Turner fails to make a case for his lasting importance or to demonstrate that our contemporary digital culture would have been significantly different if Brand had never existed. Was Brand a cause or an effect of larger social processes? Turner doesn’t say. Instead, he just chronicle’s Brand’ This well-written, well-researched book was disappointing to me. Stewart Brand clearly forged important links between the counterculturalism of the 1960s and the libertarian, cyber networks of our time, but Turner fails to make a case for his lasting importance or to demonstrate that our contemporary digital culture would have been significantly different if Brand had never existed. Was Brand a cause or an effect of larger social processes? Turner doesn’t say. Instead, he just chronicle’s Brand’s exploits, leaving the heavy-lifting, social analysis to others. For my sake, I find Manuel Castell’s work on this topic much richer.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Hart

    This is an important book about the culture that existed during the early years of the PC revolution and the creation of the Internet. The focus is on Stewart Brand and his circle, but it branches out a bit to consider the ideas of Norbert Wiener and other theorists. I found the prose to be a bit windy, but the overall message is sound and there is nothing else out there that really addresses these issues in a serious way.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kenny Cranford

    I really wanted this book to be better but it just wasn't there. Author writes like a doctoral student and it was a hard book to finish. Very dry which was surprising given the subject. Contained some great anecdotes but overall was very repetitive. A good biography of Stewart Brand would have been much more effective. I really wanted this book to be better but it just wasn't there. Author writes like a doctoral student and it was a hard book to finish. Very dry which was surprising given the subject. Contained some great anecdotes but overall was very repetitive. A good biography of Stewart Brand would have been much more effective.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Bastian Greshake Tzovaras

    Pretty interesting summary of how many of the household names of cyberculture got to fame and power. And most of the critique regarding journalistic ethics and libertarianism is also spot on. The writing tends to be a bit dry & repetitive at times, but if you're interested in the history of net culture it's definitely worth a read. Pretty interesting summary of how many of the household names of cyberculture got to fame and power. And most of the critique regarding journalistic ethics and libertarianism is also spot on. The writing tends to be a bit dry & repetitive at times, but if you're interested in the history of net culture it's definitely worth a read.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Eamonn McHugh-Roohr

    This is the rare computer-history book that takes a truly critical look at its subjects. It is not your average chronicle of successes and it's not telling us about how its subject is going to save the world. Rather, it takes a look at how networking (as in LinkedIn, not as in Internet) expert Stewart Brand managed to ride the technology rocket to the moon, and shape the discourse around technology into something palatable to his once-commune-dwelling world. It really does what What the Dormouse This is the rare computer-history book that takes a truly critical look at its subjects. It is not your average chronicle of successes and it's not telling us about how its subject is going to save the world. Rather, it takes a look at how networking (as in LinkedIn, not as in Internet) expert Stewart Brand managed to ride the technology rocket to the moon, and shape the discourse around technology into something palatable to his once-commune-dwelling world. It really does what What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry promises on its cover - explores the vaunted connection between Silicon Valley and what he calls the Whole Earth Network, but what is often taken in other accounts to represent a monolithic "counterculture." All of the big names are here: PARC, Homebrew Computer Club, People's Computer Company, but he does not dwell on them, but explains their actual connection to Brand/Whole Earth (if you want those histories, you're better off with Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer or Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age.) Really opens your eyes to the idea of legitimacy transfer-a great example of this is where Brand organizes a conference (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hac...) that serves not only to get everyone in Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution into a single building, but also to bring legitimacy and cred to himself and his collaborators.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lawrence Grandpre

    This book is like reading a history of the present written in the past. At least 10 years ahead of its time. I think the author undersells how profound his analysis is, as the tech culture which was permitted by the counterculture has permitted every inch of the knowledge economy, the financial sector and the academy in particular. The author has essentially written historical analysis of the intellectual DNA of the Western (Neo)liberal world. The performative flourishes of Twitter make more sen This book is like reading a history of the present written in the past. At least 10 years ahead of its time. I think the author undersells how profound his analysis is, as the tech culture which was permitted by the counterculture has permitted every inch of the knowledge economy, the financial sector and the academy in particular. The author has essentially written historical analysis of the intellectual DNA of the Western (Neo)liberal world. The performative flourishes of Twitter make more sense if you understand the platform itself is embedded with the spirit of the merry pranksters. Also, their lack of desire to censor speech makes much more sense if you view them as the children of the 60s who truly believe that human expression could create new, godlike people liberate through knowledge acquisition. Censorship in that world is more than a betrayal of corporate princiapals, it's a sin. Even the antipathy towards unions makes more sense given they are cast as an extension of the drab, grey, life-denying politics of the white middle class and the failed agonistic politics which brought the Vietnam war, politics you free yourself from first by going to the commune and then by hopping online and becoming enmeshed in cyberspace. Well researched and not a full-throated leftist critique, this seems to have turned some readers off, find the book confusing rather than nuanced. Also people just see bumed out by the relization that hippie counter culture was always holding seeds off of the Cold War techno state which produced it. The truth can be a harsh vibe, I guess. The follow-up I'd love to see is how these counter culture ideologies have permeated the academic/nonprofit worlds, where I imagine many who left the communes went, as well and a deeper analysis of the racism/whiteness of the new communalists. The book hints at the argument that the back to the land movement was essentially another form of "white flight" after the 68 riots and it's this sort of analysis I would have liked to see deeper interogated.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jan D

    Going by the number of annotations I made and other works I linked them too, this is one of the best reads I had in the past year or so. It tells what silicon-valley culture became along what Steward Brand did, so to say. Reading other reviews, the language and content seems to split the audience. Among other academic books in the genre of cultural history, the text is really well written. There are few fancy words, the language has a drive forward as the sentences are long but do not require ju Going by the number of annotations I made and other works I linked them too, this is one of the best reads I had in the past year or so. It tells what silicon-valley culture became along what Steward Brand did, so to say. Reading other reviews, the language and content seems to split the audience. Among other academic books in the genre of cultural history, the text is really well written. There are few fancy words, the language has a drive forward as the sentences are long but do not require jumping back and forth. Having said this, the book was such a great source for understanding web/silicon-valley/tech culture better. Sections on the connection of military research and interdisciplinary work; the idea of the world and people as data patterns in cybernetic systems; Fuller’s comprehensive designer (Who is rather similar than todays promises of "Design Thinking"); How individualism and community were thought together (Which is a large influence of the cultures of web communities and open source); the charismatic leaders who did not appear as leaders; the focus on "tools", the imagination of living on a frontier… If you are interested in this, you might like Turner’s smaller articles like "Burning man at google" (https://fredturner.stanford.edu/wp-co...) and his interviews like "Don’t be evil" in logic mag (https://logicmag.io/justice/fred-turn...)

  19. 5 out of 5

    Andy

    This is quite a tough read in places, because the author drills down to sometimes challenging ideas, but it’s worth sticking with it. What makes it especially interesting is that it was written after the internet changed society, but before the advent of social media changed the internet. I’d be really interested in his views now of the similarities between the commune movements of the 60s and the online communities of 2019; especially post Cambridge Analytica. I think he misses his target signi This is quite a tough read in places, because the author drills down to sometimes challenging ideas, but it’s worth sticking with it. What makes it especially interesting is that it was written after the internet changed society, but before the advent of social media changed the internet. I’d be really interested in his views now of the similarities between the commune movements of the 60s and the online communities of 2019; especially post Cambridge Analytica. I think he misses his target significantly by focussing on Brand and the creators of Wired and not fully examining the role of the counterculture years on the young Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and the others; the Homebrew Computer club gets a brief mention but that’s it. Apart from his role in The Well Brand really isn’t a leading cyber pioneer to my mind. Where I think he’s spot on is his understanding that both the counterculture and the computer based society of the early internet years were white, privileged and male, and that it depended, and indeed still depends (despite becoming more diverse) on a large working class to produce the infrastructure on which it exists. Were he writing now he would almost certainly have reflected I suspect that while the internet is as full of women as men, they’re the ones getting pictures of genitalia emailed to them...

  20. 4 out of 5

    Saffron

    Enlightening overview of the historical trajectory of cyberculture and its post-WWII origins. It's a particularly interesting history in itself, even if it weren't also a great explanation for the current ethos of Silicon Valley. Brand deftly wove his countercultural/New Communalist vision (springing from the same military-academic-industrial research labs that ironically was part of the genesis of the nuclear-holocaust Cheerful Robot hell they shunned) with computer technologies -- and ultimate Enlightening overview of the historical trajectory of cyberculture and its post-WWII origins. It's a particularly interesting history in itself, even if it weren't also a great explanation for the current ethos of Silicon Valley. Brand deftly wove his countercultural/New Communalist vision (springing from the same military-academic-industrial research labs that ironically was part of the genesis of the nuclear-holocaust Cheerful Robot hell they shunned) with computer technologies -- and ultimately New Right ideologies. It shows how fundamental rhetoric-building was to the direction of digital technologies, and how fundamentally political information technology has always been and continues to be. Only downside is that it can be a bit repetitive and long-winded; still, fascinating read. Particularly interesting parts: the centrality of small-scale, individualist visions for technology; the religious metaphors of disembodied communion and transcendence; the positing of Whole Earth readers as "gods" who "might as well get good at it"; the development and enactment of network theory; the confusion of liberty with deregulation; the insufficiency of "apolitical" escapist "lifestyles"; the tendency of elitist nonhierarchies to perpetuate the same social and economic pressures they are attempting to escape from.

  21. 4 out of 5

    John Ohno

    A well-researched profile of Stewart Brand and his cohort, illustrating not only the nuances of the historical connection between communalist strains of the 60s counterculture and internet optimism post-cyberdelia (in a more careful and accurate way than What the Dormouse Said) but the incredible power of Brand's own reputation-building and power-building techniques (which have been more recently replicated by Tim O'Reilley). Made me reconsider a lot of ideas I now realize I had uncritically swa A well-researched profile of Stewart Brand and his cohort, illustrating not only the nuances of the historical connection between communalist strains of the 60s counterculture and internet optimism post-cyberdelia (in a more careful and accurate way than What the Dormouse Said) but the incredible power of Brand's own reputation-building and power-building techniques (which have been more recently replicated by Tim O'Reilley). Made me reconsider a lot of ideas I now realize I had uncritically swallowed from Wired. It gets four stars instead of five because the prose is dense, businesslike, and somewhat repetitive. If you can stomach dryly-academic books with no stylistic flair, this is a good one.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Yates Buckley

    While some of the story around “wired” magazine seemed not atypical of any magazine and there are large areas missing that cover more recent perspectives in Cyberculture this text is very well researched and inspiring in its insight as to the special combination of values that shape Cyberculture. The rebels against centralisation live in close relationship to the centralised system and its tools. These intrinsic contradictions should get us to appreciate and be ready to accept that the world is a While some of the story around “wired” magazine seemed not atypical of any magazine and there are large areas missing that cover more recent perspectives in Cyberculture this text is very well researched and inspiring in its insight as to the special combination of values that shape Cyberculture. The rebels against centralisation live in close relationship to the centralised system and its tools. These intrinsic contradictions should get us to appreciate and be ready to accept that the world is always more complicated than our ideas make of it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Brehmer

    Did you know that Brand was the camera guy for Englebart’s mother of all demos? Or that he was the Rolling Stone reporter who loitered around Xerox PARC documenting the slacker / hacker vibe? Or that he was a central figure in Hacker conference, the WELL social network, the back-to-the-land movement, the Merry Pranksters, the Whole Earth Catalog, the Long Now Foundation, and the MIT Media Lab… Or that his former hippie friends pivoted to start Wired Magazine and embrace neoliberalism, falling in Did you know that Brand was the camera guy for Englebart’s mother of all demos? Or that he was the Rolling Stone reporter who loitered around Xerox PARC documenting the slacker / hacker vibe? Or that he was a central figure in Hacker conference, the WELL social network, the back-to-the-land movement, the Merry Pranksters, the Whole Earth Catalog, the Long Now Foundation, and the MIT Media Lab… Or that his former hippie friends pivoted to start Wired Magazine and embrace neoliberalism, falling in with Newt Gingrich et al. It’s all connected, man.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jim Lemanowicz

    I'm docking it one star only perhaps because of my own shortcomings as a reader due to lack of practice - this took me two years to finish. This book describes how WWII project management at the dawn of the atomic era evolved into LSD. commune utopia, computer-connected community, Wired magazine and the tech bubble of the late 90's...with a beautiful surprise ending that brings the patient reader back to reality and back to issues unsolved. So wonderful. I'm docking it one star only perhaps because of my own shortcomings as a reader due to lack of practice - this took me two years to finish. This book describes how WWII project management at the dawn of the atomic era evolved into LSD. commune utopia, computer-connected community, Wired magazine and the tech bubble of the late 90's...with a beautiful surprise ending that brings the patient reader back to reality and back to issues unsolved. So wonderful.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Erin Lynch

    Very well researched with a strong thesis (esp about the Comprehensive Designer and theories of technocracy) and some amazing factoids (Newt Gingrich??). The first few chapters are great but it will inevitably get boring unless you are obsessed with rhetorical structures, trading zones, boundary objects, and networks. So not really for a popular audience. Also reminded me of how awkward academic writing can be.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Su

    An excellent academic book. Well researched, structured, and densely packed with useful information. It was a slow read without knowing much of the background, but the content is still accessible for the casually curious.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ray

    Good examination of the past history of cyberculture and how it's affected the present views on information and open source. Good examination of the past history of cyberculture and how it's affected the present views on information and open source.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ishani Desai

    read for class; this was....intense to say the least

  29. 5 out of 5

    Hooper Bring

    KB cited this as being relevant to the statement “Pretty crazy decentralized networks were invented by paul baran at rand corporation”

  30. 5 out of 5

    Shy Writer

    Mention of THE WELL bbs brought back memories but the book is too wordy ~ say in ten words what would be just right in five) ~ and the damned font is too small! If you feel like pounding your head against a brick wall this book's for you.. Have fun.. Garbage, IMHO.. *sigh* What a waste of time.. And the WHOLE EARTH CATALOGUE and WELL, etc, was during MY time in life... I gave it a 2 instead of a 1 only because of nostalgia.. Mention of THE WELL bbs brought back memories but the book is too wordy ~ say in ten words what would be just right in five) ~ and the damned font is too small! If you feel like pounding your head against a brick wall this book's for you.. Have fun.. Garbage, IMHO.. *sigh* What a waste of time.. And the WHOLE EARTH CATALOGUE and WELL, etc, was during MY time in life... I gave it a 2 instead of a 1 only because of nostalgia..

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