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‘From Counterculture to Cyberculture’ by Fred Turner (Non-Fiction Five)

Written on June 23, 2007

11wox1eyykl_aa_sl160_.jpgFrom Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism by Stanford professor Fred Turner traces the influence of Stewart Brand from the Whole Earth Catalog to the WELL (“Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link”) to Wired Magazine.This is a compelling, if somewhat dryly academic, intellectual history of forces that have helped to create the network culture of today.

Brand seems to have played the role of Connector as described by Malcolm Gladwell in ‘The Tipping Point,’ creating networks connecting different intellectual communities, and ultimately bridging between the countercultural “New Communalists” and the later “digerati.” Norbert Wiener’s cybernetics was an early influence on Brand that, according to the book, provided a common language that enabled different disciplines to communicate and collaborate, beginning in the post-WWII research environment.

2143yntzagl_aa_sl160_.jpgThe New Communalist branch of the counterculture turned away from the political activism of the New Left, seeking social change instead through technology and the transformation of consciousness.

“Even as they decoupled computers from their dark, early 1960s association with bureaucracy, then, Brand and the Whole Earth community turned them into emblems not only of New Communalist social ideals, but of a networked mode of technocratic organization that continues to spread today. In that way, they helped transform both the cultural meanings of information and information technology and the nature of technology itself.” (p 239)


Fred Turner’s home page
Edge.org has a lengthy excerpt (Chapter 2 of the book) with an introduction by John Brockman and some photos supplied by Brand (that aren’t in the book)

Also as I mentioned in an earlier post, a Google video search turns up a series of videos of author Fred Turner discussing the book.

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