See also: counterculture


Digital Communalism

See: tribe flourishing

”Ubiquitous networked computing had arrived, and in its shiny array of interlinked devices, pundits, scholars, and investors alike saw the image of an ideal society: decentralized, egalitarian, harmonious, and free"

"In The Gutenberg Galaxy McLuhan described the new age in tribal terms: electronic media had linked all of humanity into a single ‘global vilage’"

"Nor does the fact that individuals can come together by means of computer networks necessarily require that their gatherings become ‘virtual communities’"

"Dyson and Barlow, as well as many other commentators at the time, saw the Internet serving as a rhetorical prototype for new, flexible, and mobile ways of working and living.”

Together, the Catalog and the Supplement became textual forums within which a geographically dispersed collection of individuals and groups could come together, in text and sometimes pictures, and recognize each other as members of a single community. In a sense, Catalog and Supplement became town squares.

Comprehensive Designers

Contact Language which to exchange ideas and techniques in linguistically distinct tribes (e.g. scientists, technologists, and administrators)

“The Comprehensive Designer not only did not need to don a gray flannel suit when he went to work; he actually needed to become an artist and intellectual migrant. To a generation preoccupied with the fear of becoming lockstep corporate adults on the military model of Brand’s imagined Soviet Army, Buckminster Fuller offered a marvelously playful alternative"

"How you get energy is, you take polarities and slap them next to one another. If you get into cybernetics and your head is just a minute ago full of organic gardening and ecology, then cybernetics starts to come alive for you in a different way.”

Network Forums

Network Forum — a place where members of different communities come together, exchanging ideas and legitimacy, and in the process, synthesizing new intellectual frameworks and new social networks.

Network entrepreneur: one who migrates from one intellectual community to another and, in the process, to knit together formerly separate intellectual and social networks.

”We thought of the WEC as a print version of what the Internet was going to be”

Computational Metaphor

On the computational metaphor (seeing everything as computable)

“We are compiling a vocabulary and a syntax that is able to describe in a single language all kinds of phenomenon that have escaped a common language until now. It is a new universal metaphor. It has more juice in it than previous metaphors: Freud’s dream state, Darwin’s variety, Marx’s progress, or the Age of Aquarius. And it has more power than anything else in science at the moment. In fact the computational metaphor may eclipse mathematics as a form of universal notation."

"Society as a whole, as well as its constituent organizational parts, functioned much like organisms and machines."

"The principles governing the world of the soft — the world of intangibles, of media, of software, and of services — will soon command the world of the hard — the world of reality, of atoms, of objects, of steel and oil, and the hard work done by the sweat of brows.” — New Rules for the New Economy

Technocracy, technostructure, or technological society: society’s rapid process of centralization and rationalization as both supported by new technologies and designed to help build them.

Santa Fe Institute: founded in 1984 by a group of scientists who had come to believe that since WWII, the biological, physical, and social sciences had begun to converge. Computers, they argued, had made this convergence possible in two ways: first, they had served as tools for examining and modeling the world, and, second, the algorithms with which they organized information mimicked the algorithmic patterning of life itself by means of biological “technologies” such as DNA.


”[The hippie’s] arrival tapped into memories of very old patterns of colonization and migration. A chicano member of New Mexico’s Reality Construction Company commune told a visiting reporter, ‘every time a white hippie comes in a buys a Chicano’s land to escape the fuckin’ city, he sends that Chicano to the city to go through what he’s trying to escape from, can you dig it?… Then when that money’s gone, see, the Chicano has to stay in the city, cause now he ain’t got no land to come back to.”

Power Hierarchies and Individualism

”Brand suggests that top-down politics (i.e. the kind where Mr. Advantage tells Mr. Disadvantage what to do) is bankrupt. The center of change must be the individual, acting with other likeminded individuals. This emphasis on local action echoes the notion of the individual’s local role in maintaining universal systems.”

WEC seems to promote an incredibly individualistic approach; Indians must work with Indians, the Third World with the Third World, blacks with blacks, and so on. No group should count on help from any other… Such segregation might seem to conflict with the WEC’s celebration of ‘whole’ systems. This seems to be an artifact of the fact that all members of the WEC were white and relatively young, with a high level of education and easy access to social and financial resources.

”The great machines of empire had been miniturized and turned over to individuals, and so transformed into tools with which individuals could improve their own lives."

"As a variety of economic sociologists have noted, the mid-1980s saw hierarchical firms in many industries and several nations reorganize themselves as project oriented networks. They laid off workers, broke component elements of firms into semi-independent project teams, and decentralized their management structure."

"Although the hive had a queen, he pointed out it was governed by the rule-driven behaviour of its many members. In the hive one could see ‘the true democracy and all distributed governance’. One could also see the faded image of New Communalism. Leveled, collaborative, linked by invisible signals and shared feelings, Kelly’s hive was a sort of natural commune.” (more on collaborative-thinking)

“Together, Wired suggested, this digital generation would do what the New Communalists had failed to accomplish: they would tear down hierarchies, undermine the sorts of corporations and governments that had spawned them, and, in the hierarchies’ place, create a peer-to-peer, collaborative society, interlinked by invisible currents of energy and information."

"The urge to ‘hack’ politics by bringing governance down to a mangeable local level and by basing social integration on technologically facilitated forms of consciousness was one of the driving impulses behind the New Communalist movement"

"In many industries today, and in some parts of military and academic life as well, hierarchies have been replaced by flattened structures, long-term employment by short-term, project-based contracting, and professional positions by complex, networked forms of sociability.”

Media Labs

”The sponsors were not allowed to demand that any particular research be done on their behalf. Rather, they were buying permission to watch as [they built]"

"Media Lab personnel were never required to produce artifiacts that could be mass-produced or that would feed directly into sponsors’ lines of business per se. Instead, they were expected to produce ‘demos.‘”

See also: research institutions


”I always thought tools were objects, things: screw drivers, wrenches, axes, hoes. Now I realize that tools are a process: using the right-sized and shaped object in the most effective way to get a job done.”

On CompuServe and elsewhere, developers largely treated information as a commodity to be exchanged and users as consumers of information goods

”Biological life does not want to keep speeding up like a chip design, cycling ever faster year by year."

"Behind the fantasy of unimpeded information flow lies the reality of millions of plastic keyboards, silicon wafers, glass-faced monitors, and endless miles of cable. All of these technologies depend on manual laborers, first to build them and later to tear them apart.”

Reboot Discussion

  • Steward Brand in 1984 as an Apple Mac, create a society of consciousness
    • Mac (as a metaphor for tech) is the new LSD: ability to remove the importance of the physical self

How much of the shift was a result of WEC? How much you see importance of media / social networking vs technical revolution?

  • WEC was not a marketplace, rather an aggregator of information (a pre-Google search engine)
  • What tools do you want to bring to a commune (ex: farming commune)
    • Food, housing, basics
  • Why would you need a calculator and a book on cybernetics on a farm?
    • Tools which allow you to fundamentally understand the world in a different way
  • Catalogue provides the infrastructure → leads to conferences which lead to development of more infrastructure
  • Network Entrepreneur sees several decentralized groups that aren’t connected and services as a connector

Connection between WEC and WELL

  • picture yourself as a hippie in the 1980’s, communes will save the world and end warmaking America
    • California is tech driven, everything is failing
  • Electronic Frontier → empty society/land of consciousness
  • Larry Bird, most influential people in silicon valley