From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism Hardcover – Sep 15 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
On first glance, back-to-the-land hippies and dot-com entrepreneurs might not seem much alike, but it turns out that they have a whole lot in common underneath those scraggly beards and goatees. Drawing a direct line from dog-eared copies of the Whole Earth Catalog to the slickly techno-libertarian Wired magazine, Stanford University communications professor Turner follows countercultural figures like Stewart Brand, who shaped the information revolution, according to their aspirations to break down the boundaries of individual experience and embrace a larger collective consciousness. Less a biography of Brand than of the swirl of relationships surrounding him, the book shows how the ride of the Merry Pranksters and LSD experimentation led to the early online discussion board Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link (the WELL), and into the digital utopianism surrounding the hyperlinked World Wide Web. Turner offers a compelling genealogy of both the ideals and the disappointments of our digital world, one that is as important for scholars as it is illuminating for general readers. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* In this unique, provocative work of cultural history, Turner teases apart the visions, myths, and rhetoric that have swept us into cyberspace. This concentration on the ethos of our digital enthrallment rather than on technology revolves around gifted entrepreneur and networker Stewart Brand. Inspired by Buckminster Fuller, Ken Kesey, and the back-to-the-land commune movement, Brand created the Whole Earth Catalog, an innovative interdisciplinary compendium that won the National Book Award in 1971 and, as Turner convincingly argues, generated the paradigm that led to the World Wide Web. Brand then declared that the computer was "the new LSD" and a "tool for transformation," and, as a hippie turned cybermystic turned nimble businessman, he founded Wired magazine and the megaprofitable and conservative Global Business Network. Turner tells many an eye-opening tale and connects many dots in this avidly researched, keenly analyzed, and stunningly ironic chronicle of how counterculture ideals transmuted into corporate strategies. In conclusion, Turner assesses the myriad ways digital utopianism has changed the texture of our lives and incisively exposes the staggering hubris of the digerati and the complex social and environmental consequences of computerization. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I'll add here one micro-correction that I gather Turner plans to fix in the paperback edition. In the early 1960s I was not a draftee in the Army, but an officer on two years active duty in the Infantry. If I at times took a leadership role later on, I was just deploying what I'd been trained to do.
The guy in the subtitle CAN'T give a book 5 stars--- it's impertinent. Hence my 4 stars.
Mr. Turner contends that the U.S. scientific/military/academic complex of the 1940s-1960s fostered radically new, collaborative work structures characterized by collegiality and the free sharing of information. While the New Left was repelled by this system and what it regarded to be its instruments of empire, Mr. Turner demonstrates that Cold War technology held great appeal to many of the New Communards of the 1960s, who had withdrawn from the political in order develop consciousness within music, drugs and alternative living arrangements. To key persons within the New Communard movement, it was felt that technology could play a key role in the task of empowering individuals to transform themselves and their world.
In particular, Mr. Turner focuses on the remarkable career of Stewart Brand to tell his story. Mr. Turner discusses how Brand personified the anxieties and aspirations of his generation but importantly, recognized the value of collaboration as a key life strategy and aimed to repurpose technology for the benefit of society. Mr. Turner follows Brand through the various phases of his life, including stints as a member of the LSD-dropping Merry Pranksters, an enterpreneur who published the Whole Earth Catalog, independent writer, organizer of computer conferences, developer of the WELL bulletin board/email system, and tech industry consultant to demonstrate how the personal and professional networks that Brand had a part in building have profoundly impacted our attitudes and perceptions about computing technology. Specifically, Mr. Turner argues that the notion of personal computing as a tool for achieving liberation and the Internet as a platform for constructing egalitarian communities were rooted in the countercultural values that Brand, and others within his circle, embraced.
Mr. Turner goes on to discuss how the so-called New Economy of the 1990s reveled in the libertarian rhetoric that echoed the apolitical logic of the New Communards, who had returned from the failed communes of the 1970s to seek redemption within corporate America through the construction of an immaterial economy of seemingly endless possibility. Assessing the limitations of ideology to achieve lasting reform both then and now, Mr. Turner suggests that the cyberculturalist task of building a truly egalitarian society will remain problematic as long as its members remain alienated from the material world.
I give this brilliant and thoroughly engrossing work the highest possible rating and recommend it to everyone.
It may devolve into `professor-speak' at times but it is well worth it. If you want to know about one of the critical components of both the `counter culture' of the 60's and the internet revolution of the 90's this is a must read.
In this informed, detailed, and extremely well- written survey of the career of Brand, Fred Turner also provides a insightful and exciting look at America 's cultural, and especially 'alternative culture ' development from the sixties through the nineties. Brand meets up on his travels with 'Edge's' John Brockman, with Ken Kesey with whom he is a Merry Prankster, with Bucky Fuller who tries to help his projects,with Kevin Kelly of the 'Wired' world, with many of those seeking new ways of making the Technology connect with communal frameworks that will enable ( at least this is one of Brand's goals) the individual to truly be an individual .
Brand's most famous contribution 'The Whole Earth Catalogue' which was certainly one of the major cultural influences upon the Environmental Movement, and incidentally the Hippy Culture of the Sixties , told us the way we could get anything we needed to make our way into the rapidly changing future. Brand's work as editor and thinker also contributed to the World Wide Web to come, and the name and concept 'personal computer' is also one of his contributions.
This is an important work to read not only to learn about decisive moments in the life of a remarkable individual, but to better understand the world- in- the -making we are a part of.
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