From Counterculture to Cyberculture
Digital Communalism (see: tribal 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.
Much as the dancers at the Trips Festival had imagined that LSD would allow them to escape their bodies and enjoy a new form of communion, scholars and reporters began to describe computer-mediated communication as a form of interaction in which bodies had ceased to matter.
# 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 palce 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 hasm ore 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 intagibles, 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.
Sante Fe Institute: founded in 1984 by a group of scientists who had come to believe that since WWII, the biological, physical, and socila 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 backrupt. 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 Wolrd, 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, iwth 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.”
Hackers -> those who figured things out as they went and invented for pleasure. Focused on computer systems themselves and on seeing what they could do
Planners -> those who pursued problems according to a set and less flexible strategy. Thought of computers as tools that oculd be used to generate or model infomration
Steven Levy’s definitions: A hack -> a project undertaken or a product built not solely to fulfill some constructive goal, but with some mild pleasure take in mere involvement
# Media Labs
“The sponsors were not allowed to demand that any particular reserach 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 feede directly into sponsors’ lines of business per se. Instead, they were expected to produce ‘demos.’”
“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
# How did this book start?
- Why and how did computers go from emblems of cold war state to tools of personal liberation?
- A bunch of folks like Steward Brand, Kevin Kelly, etc. (inner circle included people from the 60s to the 90s) having a person who he could follow across these generations was extremely helpful
# What is cybernetics?
Different between social networking, computer networking, etc.
Another definition: computationalization of human processes
- What is the counterculture
- What it was lauded for: The hippie world brought us the tech world
- What he was trying to say: The tech world of the 40s and 50s brought us the ideas and insights that brought us hippies
- Insights from the anti-aircraft system
- Biological (person) and technological (machine) systems can be described by the same underlying concepts (mathematics)
- The core idea: Unifying a world with code. Should be a universal system.
- War brought different people from different disciplines together and had a shared communication medium of code
# What was the counterculture?
- People in 50s and 60s protesting because worried about being turned into information
- Two distinct movements (both are anti-bureaucracy, anti-big tech, anti-mass culture)
- New Left (political)
- Leaders, Parties
- New Communalists (internal consciousness, mindset)
- Deeply anchored in the dreams of the cyberneticists
- Technocrats of control via communication (banger)
- Communes (literally in the name)
- New Left (political)
- Why were the 50’s kids so enamoured with technology?
- Kids of the counterculture
- Keep the tech made from the way but throw away the culture of the time
- When you take away bureaucracy you don’t get freedom but ‘rule by cool’ → disastrous for a democratic society
# Did the New Left have any effect on Cyberculture?
- Folks on new left will say they did → Computers fulfilled agreement
- Communalists had more contribution in tech world
- Communes were disasters, didn’t last long, living in California
- Computer industry was booming
- Stanford = hotbed of creative LSD ingestion (damn wtf)
- reboot group trip when?
- 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
- Black panthers have been crushed
- Howard Rheingold (the virtual community → on wiki someone find it)
- Electronic Frontier → empty society/land of consciousness
- Larry Bird, most influential people in silicon valley
# Our current state seems somewhat inevitable, were there any inflection points along the way that could have changed the direction
- Counterculture legitimates a project that is already underway
- Different in ways that we don’t talk about as much
- Gone right
- The power of email, allows you to have institutional and parainstitutional ties
- The power of search, reams of first hand information instantly
- Gone wrong
- Economics of incentives and bad actors
- Individuating users and centralize control of information, enables advertising en masse
- Although it predates technology via TV and radio, amplified by
- Government have to intervene, like oil companies mining our social world
- Must let go of communalist dream of collective consciousness
- Gone right
# Era of connected machines → connected humans
- Enabled by technological development
- Can this be beneficial for everyone rather than just the privileged?
- Tech that has been sold to us as devices of personal empowered
- not only corporate sponsored but also partnered with the state
- intersection of Big Tech and the state is an uh oh → military industrial complex never really goes away
# Where is todays counterculture
- Not the left, but actually the right
- Concern is not big data and ML but with corporations and states
- Place of rebellion is not at the data level but at the institution and union level (in big corporations) + legal level (ex: protection of Uber drivers)
- There are bodies and factories and server farms → lets not forget the basis of our abstractions
# What can we learn from the promises/pitfalls of Steward Brand
- Performative politics
- false belief that finding ourselves in our mid 20s is gonna change the world
- rather, by engaging and learning from people who are vastly different from us, BE political
- don’t isolate, break out and do politics
- don’t build communities of consciousness
- build places of exchange, places where public decision making and CHANGE happens