[iDC] Re:From Counter Culture to Cyber Culture: The "Utopian" thing.....

Michel Bauwens michelsub2004 at gmail.com
Sun May 6 01:15:13 EDT 2007

Here are some of my own comments.

Concerning Sam's remarks.

I agree with Sam remarks to warn against any easy generalization of what
such people are trying to accomplish.

As I understand it, Utopians start from an impulse of how things should be
or could be, rather than what they are. I also think that after the
generally bad experiences of certain utopias, many people have matured and
are indeed taking more pragmatic approaches. My own could be called
'concrete utopias', though I do not generally care for the utopian label at
all. It simply means that you observe closely the most innovative social
practices, and whether they produce any practical and ethical surplus that
is congruent with human needs, without denying any negatives that may be
associated with it. The second step is the network such best practices so
that they may reinforce each other, and generate new social and
institutional formats.

I am a regular reader of both Kelly and Rheingold, and though they are
optimistic, and believe in the potential of technology for human
emancipation. I challenge Ryan to show the precise citations where these
authors advocate the rule of technical experts. I believe these authors are
not just rhetorically sophisticated, but intellectually as well, and very
aware of the techno-social imbrications of technological trends. This is not
to say they are always right or never one-sided, but it is the arguments
that then have to be tackled, and not a one-sided labelling.

In the case of his examples then, it is incumbent on Ryan to argue why he
thinks lifelogging is not likely to be an important trend. The jury is
certainly is still out on that, though I'm on the side of the sceptics on
this one. I'm not sure in any case, what it is that is utopian about

The example of Brand is much clearer and unequivocal, and I agree with Ryan
that this is a clear case, not of utopianism, but of technological
determinism, but again, I don't think that Brand advocates the rule of the
experts, but rather he advocates participation in the co-creation of these

Here's my own take on P2P in the context of any potential technological
determinism, see

To Andrew: what is scary about their agenda? Transhumanism yes, but Howard
Rheingold scary?



On 5/6/07, Ryan Shaw <ryanshaw at ischool.berkeley.edu> wrote:
> On May 5, 2007, at 10:51 AM, Samuel Rose wrote:
> > It's important to really define what you mean by "Digital Utopianism".
> >
> > Are we really trying thoroughly and accurately examine whether
> > these people are operating on "Utopian" fundamental assumptions?
> > Or, are we really just trying to build a "brand" of intellectualism
> > that has as it's basis an "anti" digital socio-techno bent?
> I don't believe Fred Turner is trying to establish an "anti-digital"
> brand (though Andrew Keen most definitely is). I don't think you can
> read Turner's book and come away with the impression that he is anti-
> digital (in fact, a few months ago on this list he was accused of
> being too pro-digital). Rather than taking a stance for or against
> digital technology, Turner tries to escape the pro-digital/anti-
> digital dichotomy by making visible the process by which that
> dichotomy was created.
> > So far, my conclusion is that I think it's quite unfair, and
> > definitely not accurate, to label these people discussed in this
> > book as "Digital Utopians".
> >
> > A "Utopian" view is generally defined as a non-realistic view of
> > perfection.  I  think this word is misused to describe the social/
> > technological/cultural phenomenon this book is covering.
> >
> > I am part of the networks that have emerged from the "Whole Earth
> > Network"(and also part of many other networks that have nothing to
> > do with this network). The visions and concepts discussed by people
> > like Kevin Kelly, Howard Rheingold, Alan Kay, and others referenced
> > in Fred's book are grounded in reality, and are generally workable,
> > usable theoretical constructs. The works these people put out take
> > into account the pros and cons of technology. Calling them "Digital
> > Utopians" seems to steer me towards the conclusion that these
> > people are are irrationally one-sided in their conclusions about
> > technology, and that they espouse the view that the world will be a
> > perfect place, if people only were to adopt their techno-social
> > visions.
> Just because someone acknowledges the impossibility of perfection
> doesn't mean they aren't one-sided in their conclusions. Brand,
> Kelly, Rheingold et al are too rhetorically sophisticated to say that
> their goal is perfection. Instead, their arguments usually take the
> form of asserting that some technological imperative is inevitable,
> acknowledging that there are bound to be problems given human
> fallibility, and then concluding that we have no other choice but to
> let expert technologists guide us through these straits--and that we
> stand to benefit greatly if we do.
> > I'd like to get down to direct references. Hard evidence of why we
> > should consider these people "Utopians". Who are the "Digital
> > Utopians", exactly, and why exactly should we regard them as
> > illogical and unrealistic "Utopians" vs. theorists, or designers?
> > Where is the evidence? And, if there is no evidence, then why are
> > we talking about this?
> Here are two recent examples just off the top of my head. First,
> Kelly's recent blog post entitled "Lifelogging, An Inevitablity"[1],
> in which he concludes as follows:
> "For many skeptics the social challenges of lifelogging will doom it
> to a small minority, or else earn it full prohibition. They don't
> want ubiquitous lifelogging, and find it implausible than anyone will
> once they see it in action. ... I believe we'll invent social norms
> to navigate the times when lifelogging recording is appropriate or
> not, but for the most part total recording will become as pervasive
> as text is to us now. It will be everywhere and we won't even notice
> it – except when it is gone."
> Now you might argue that this is not utopian, as Kelly acknowledges
> the existence of "skeptics" (always a smear among the Wired crowd)
> who might have a problem with the constant recording of the world
> around them.  But these nay-sayers may as well not exist, because for
> Kelly there is only one possible future, the one in which total
> recording becomes pervasive. I consider that refusal to consider
> other possible futures one-sided.
> The second example is from the recent "New Media and Social Memory"
> symposium held at UC Berkeley in January[2], at which I heard Stewart
> Brand disparage bio-ethicists as "people who like to say no." For
> Brand, the only legitimate response to biotechnology is participation
> in its development or unconditional support. Or as Brand once put it,
> "Once a new technology rolls over you, if you're not part of the
> steamroller, you're part of the road." From this perspective, only
> technologists are qualified to make decisions about what should or
> shouldn't be done. Again, while this attitude may not be utopian it
> is certainly one-sided.
> > Are we saying that these people discussed in Fred's book have
> > somehow foisted a lifestyle and culture upon the Western world
> > based on a counter-culture Utopian vision of digital human
> > perfection? If so, should we think the same way about anyone who
> > tries to improve human existence through technological design?
> > Especially if their patterns are rapidly adopted and used on a
> > mainstream scale? Were they "Utopians", or were they pragmatic
> > thinkers? Where is the inherent sinister evil in these "Digital
> > Utopians" that I am missing here? Where were the "Digital Utopians"
> > misguided, and how has reality shown them to be wrong?
> We shouldn't condemn people who strive to improve human existence
> through technological design. We should be wary of people who assert
> that the only legitimate way to improve human existence is through
> technological design.
> As for "how reality has shown them to be wrong," well, the nice thing
> about being a futurist is that you can always claim that the future
> you foretold just hasn't arrived yet, so you never have to be wrong.
> Ryan Shaw
> [1]http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2007/02/lifelogging_an.php
> [2]http://www.bampfa.berkeley.edu/about/newmedia
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