Techno-utopians, then and now

“the wealth of networks is just as concentrated as financial wealth.”

 

Techno-utopianism has a history that extends beyond the widespread use of the personal computer. The champions of the PC itself have a past that extend into the 1960s counterculture. In this blog, I examine the relationship of the Whole Earth Network to the techno-utopianism of today.

The Whole Earth Network emerged not only out of 1960s counterculture, but also out of new modes of work and organization that emerged during and after WWII. These modes stressed collaboration, flexibility, and, at times, decentralization. “[M]embers of the Whole Earth network helped reverse the political valence of information and information technology and turn computes into emblems of countercultural revolution,” writes Turner. “At the same time, however, they legitimated a metamorphosis within – and a widespread diffusion of – the core cultural styles of military-industrial-academic technocracy that their generation had sought to undermine” (2006, p. 238). This network, which Turner refers to as the New Communalists,” began with “the bohemian artists of cold war Manhattan and San Francisco, and later the hippies of Haight-Ashbury and the youthful back-to-the-landers,” which later in the 1980s and 1990s became the pioneers of internet culture. Contrary to the New Left, the New Communalists “in fact embraced technocentric optimism, the information theories, and the collaborative work style of the research world” (p. 240). Continue reading

Selling the lie: will the technophiles eat their own virtual hats?

When Kirkpatrick Sale was finishing up Rebels Against the Future, he was interviewed by Kevin Kelly for Wired.[1] This interview, however, became more of a debate, between a technophile and someone urging caution and limits with regard to technology – a neo-Luddite.

Kelly begins by wondering whether the Luddites accomplished anything “other than arson and a lot of vandalism.” Perhaps a brief history is in order for some of my more casual readers. Even Kelly doesn’t seem to understand the Luddites, as he claims:

The Luddite cottagers thought it was inhuman to be put out of work by machines. But what’s really inhuman is to have cloth made by human labor at all. Cloth should be made by machines, because machines make much better cloth than humans. Making cloth is not a good job for humans… Continue reading

Personality Online: Anonymous, Toxic and Otherwise Destructive

I’ve been intensively studying the literature on how technology changes society. My focus has been on technologies much more simple and less ubiquitous than current communications and information technologies. This is primarily to understand technological change in its essence. Lately I’ve read a few things that have inspired some thoughts that I’d like to share.

The first came when reading a colleagues paper that cited John Suler’s studies on what he calls “the Online Disinhibition Effect.”

The Online Disinhibition Effect displays in the following ways:

  • You Don’t Know Me (dissociative anonymity)
  • You Can’t See Me (invisibility)
  • See You Later (asynchronicity)
  • It’s All in My Head (solipsistic introjection)
  • It’s Just a Game (dissociative imagination)
  • We’re Equals (minimizing authority)

Continue reading