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

The Decade of the Leak

After the first major Wikileaks release and the subsequent “manhunt” for Julian Assange, I dubbed this the Decade of the Leak. I was referencing the news that was just waning in popular discussion of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. That leak was just starting to pass from public memory as a new leak – this time of information – was the topic du jour. Then came the “Palestine Papers.” Now we’re hearing about the leaking nuclear reactors in Japan, after a massive series of earthquakes and tsunamis devastated the country. We are seeing two concurrent catastrophes for global capitalism: the rush for abundant, cheap energy causing ecological crises, and the struggle by centralized powers to control information in a decentralized, globally interconnected web of information. These twin catastrophes are likely to (1) continue and expand in ways we can’t predict, and (2) significantly alter the ecological, economic and political world we live in for many decades to come.

More thoughts on the matter to come soon….