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Insight into America's cultural transformation
on July 2, 2008
"From Counterculture to Cyberculture" by Fred Turner offers a groundbreaking work that definitively traces the rise of digital utopianism to the ideals of the 1960s counterculture. Mr. Turner supports his fascinating narrative with original research and provides many pages of thoughtful analysis. This extraordinary book will no doubt be valued by researchers and interested readers who want to gain deep insight into some of the most interesting aspects of America's cultural transformation during the second half of the twentieth century.
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 Turner demonstrates that Cold War technology held great appeal to many of the New Communards of the 1960s, who had withdrawn from the political in order develop consciousness within music, drugs and alternative living arrangements.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.