[iDC] Hello out there

Fred Turner fturner at stanford.edu
Sat May 5 18:40:02 EDT 2007

Andrew and all,

         Wow... answering these questions took me pages and pages in 
the book. I'll take my best shot at a precis below. Meantime, for 
folks looking for a longer take, pieces of the book are on line at: 

At 08:52 PM 5/4/2007, Andrew Keen wrote:
>Fred -- some questions that might help people understand your 
>intriguing argument:
>-- What were the ideological and cultural roots of the Silicon 
>Valley computer revolution?
         There are two roots, one military and one cultural. Contrary 
to popular accounts, in which the counterculture brings us the PC, 
I've argued that a large part of the counterculture in fact emerges 
out of a celebration of the same cold war military-industrial 
research culture that brought us the computer. Folks like Stewart 
Brand and many others actually embraced cybernetics and collaborative 
research practice as the basis of a new form of living and working, 
and of the largest commune movement in American history. In this 
vision, small scale tools ranging from computers to LSD serve as 
technologies with which to enhance consciousness. This enhancement in 
turn allows for the creation of new kinds of communities -- without 
the hassles of politics or the possibility of falling into hierarchy 
and orthodoxy. This vision ultimately brought us the notion that 
computers could be personally transformative technologies, that 
computer-mediated communication served as a "virtual community," and 
that cyberspace was an "electronic frontier."

>-- Why do think so many people in the counter culture were attracted 
>by the potential of the computer to turn the world upside down?

They hoped for a world linked by consciousness and communication. 
When the commune movement built around that idea collapsed in the 
early 1970s, many were still in the Bay area and began to work in the 
computer industries. By the early 1980s, thanks specifically to Brand 
and others, they had begun to reimagine computers in terms first set 
by LSD twenty years earlier.

>-- How do you define the concept of "digital utopianism" and how has 
>it (re)shaped Silicon Valley and the computer industry?

Digital utopianism is a complex thing, but the gist of it runs 
something like: new digital technologies are modelling and putting 
into practice an open, egalitarian social world in which individuals, 
corporations and states will have equal powers, in which networks 
rather than hierarchies will be the dominant formation, and in which 
the world will be saved from the predations of hierarchical 
governments and firms.

>-- What role do you think digital utopianism has played in the 
>cultural origins and development of the internet? Does it now 
>represent an intellectual orthodoxy that is changing the 
>counter-cultural assumptions of business and media?

This one's just too big! For my own part, the countercultural ideals 
that underlie digital utopianism have been so long entwined with 
business culture that it's hard to see them as separate.

>-- Can we now talk about a computer-military industrial complex?

I'm not sure we should ever have been talking about anything else.

Hope that helps,

>Fred Turner wrote:
>>Hi All --
>>The ever-resourceful Trebor has asked that I get over my reticence 
>>and let the list know I'm on it. I'm the author of From 
>>Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth 
>>Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism. In that book, I talk a 
>>lot about the ways that countercultural movements of the 1960s drew 
>>from and ultimately enabled the growth and diffusion of 
>>military-industrial culture. Trebor and I have been talking about 
>>the consequences of that turn for contemporary digital 
>>collaborations and artistic activism -- I'm happy to continue the 
>>discussion here.
>>-- Fred Turner
>>Fred Turner
>>Assistant Professor
>>Director of Undergraduate Studies
>>Dept. of Communication
>>Building 120
>>Stanford University
>>Stanford, CA 94305-2050
>>O) 650-723-0706
>>Fax) 650-725-2472
>>iDC -- mailing list of the Institute for Distributed Creativity 
>>iDC at mailman.thing.net
>>List Archive:
>>iDC Photo Stream:

Fred Turner
Assistant Professor
Director of Undergraduate Studies
Dept. of Communication
Building 120
Stanford University
Stanford, CA 94305-2050
O) 650-723-0706
Fax) 650-725-2472

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