April 28, 2007

Lit Review: From Counterculture to Cyberculture (cont.)

Chapter 2: Stewart Brand Meets the Cybernetic Counterculture
-In the era of the Beat generation and the Merry Pranksters, the social ideals of the New Communalists and the products of the Cold War technocracy were merged in the San Francisco LSD scene. Trips Festivals created spaces in which the technological and the social came together in ecstatic communal experiences marked by lights, images, and music brought about through electronic media, as well as LSD. These experiences integrated those who attended into a single techno-biological system:

Far from asserting direct control over events, he [Brand] had built an environment, a happening, a laboratory. He had set forth the conditions under which a system might evolve and flower, and he had stocked the biological and social worlds of those who entered that system with technologies that allowed them to feel as though the boundaries between the social and the biological, between their minds and their bodies, and between themselves and their friends, were highly permeable. He had helped found a new tribe of technology-loving Indians, artistic engineers of the self.


Chapter 3: The Whole Earth Catalog as Information Technology
-Brand's desire to merge systems theory and New Communalist politics resulted in the creation of the Whole Earth Catalog, a disperse project offering products such as books, camping gear, and blueprints for houses and machines for those migrating to form communes in the hills of New Mexico and Colorado.
-The Catalog reflected both the technological and scientific achievements of the time as well as the acid-drenched, Eastern religion-inspired hippie movement. In addition, the contributions of its readers established a network forum enhanced by mobility between several countercultural, academic, and technological communities.
-Collaboration of disparate, disembodied communities, small-scale personal and informational technology that supported the development of individual consciousness and ecstatic communion.

We are as gods and might as well get good at it. So far, remotely done power and glory- as via government, big business, formal education, church- has succeeded to the point where gross defects obscure actual gains. In response to this dilemma and to these gains a realm of intimate, personal power is developing- power of the individual to conduct his own education, find his own inspiration, shape his own environment, and share his adventure with whoever is interested. Tools that aid this process are sought and promoted by the Whole Earth Catalog (Brand, inside cover of the Catalog).


In comparing the Whole Earth Catalog to current Internet culture, the following snippets are particularly of note:
-both a reflection of and a doorway to the world
-nomadic technocratism
-interactive elements increase commitment, as well as involvement.
-by publishing financial accounts, Whole Earth was also viewed as "open source"
-appropriation by the subculture(s) for the purposes of transformation of the superculture- does this succeed? Dominated by white, affluent, educated population...

The Rise of Digital Utopianism: Implications for Analysis

Barlow, an information technology journalist and pundit, was also once a lyricist for the Grateful Dead. Following an international summit in which the Communications Decency Act was passed, which sought to restrict pornography on the Internet, he crafted a treatise in defense of the independence of the Internet from bureaucratic attempts at regulation. This essay, which was posted and widely circulated on the Internet, suggested that the Internet allowed for the possibility of a social revolution. Barlow painted a picture of a world in which the oppressive forces of the government were replaced by the pursuit of individual enlightenment, communality, and collective consciousness.

Cyberspace consists of transactions, relationships, and thought itself, arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications. Ours is a world that is both everywhere and nowhere, but it is not where bodies live.

We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth.

We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.

Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here.

Our identities have no bodies, so, unlike you, we cannot obtain order by physical coercion. We believe that from ethics, enlightened self-interest, and the commonweal, our governance will emerge . Our identities may be distributed across many of your jurisdictions. The only law that all our constituent cultures would generally recognize is the Golden Rule. We hope we will be able to build our particular solutions on that basis. But we cannot accept the solutions you are attempting to impose.

Barlow’s work in collaboration with Wired magazine established a movement inspired by an ideology of digital utopianism. In what ways has this ideology integrated into the public consciousness? In my own research on online social networking communities, I would like to examine how these sites contribute to as well as diminish the creation of a “digital utopia”.

April 26, 2007

Lit Review: From Counterculture to Cyberculture (Fred Turner)

Chapter 1: The Shifting Politics of the Computational Metaphor
-Sacio and the Free Speech Movement of the 60s opposed the mechanization of society through the guise of the university, the military, and information technologies.
-30 years later, what was once a threat was now a promise of liberation, expressed through the evolving personalization of the Internet.
-Barlow's Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace in proclamation of the liberating nature of the Internet for overthrowing the bureaucracy. Social revolution?
-Esther Dyson believed that the Internet would become a digital marketplace that would allow consumers and corporations to negotiate equally, thus dissolving the tyranny of corporate hierarchies (Release 2.0: A Design for Living in the Digital Age).
-Kevin Kelly believed we were moving toward a "computational metaphor" in human understanding, in which the universe is a computer according to a new vocabulary that is now emerging.
-Disembodiment: dehumanization or equality?

The Forgotten Openness of the Closed World
-Post WWII era was dominated by a "closed world discourse", in which both the individual mind and the military were viewed as mechanized tools of control- cognitive psychology began utilizing the computational metaphor to describe the human brain, and in the military plans and operations were visually rendered through computer programming.
-Though this mechanization of society is exactly what students of the 60's rebelled against, at the time this discourse allowed for a quite flexible and creative style of research. This led to the rise of the military industrial complex and interdisciplinary collaboration.
-In the pursuit of military technology, scientists and researchers from many disciplines devised a new language with which to communicate.

-Humans and machines in collaboration within a larger, fluid socio-technical system- a "feedback system" that was then extended to human biology and society.
-This led to the deveopment of cybernetics (Norbert Wiener)- "the study of messages as a means of controlling machinery and society".
-In this frame, the media is viewed as a "servomechanism" that maintains the homeostasis of society through a feedback system of messages.
-Though computers threatened automation of people and society, they also brought hope for the possibility of a more democratic creation of order.

The Countercultural Embrace of Technology and Consciousness

-In the eyes of the left, the computational metaphor was one designed to create and maintain an unfeeling "technocracy" (Roszak).
-Lewis Mumford's The Myth of the Machine envisioned a world in which the technocratic elite are bent on designing man as an automaton whose proper functions will be controlled by the machine.
-In the postwar period, thanks in large part to research grants funded by the military, university enrollment exploded.
-Two forms of counterculture emerged in the 1960's: the New Left, which struggled for civil rights, free speech and voter registration (outward political action); and cold war-era culture marked by Zen Buddhism, Beat writings, action painting, and psychedelic drugs (inward consciousness and communalism).
-The New Communalists, contrary to the New Left, embraced the communal and egalitarian potential of cybernetics.
The New Left worked within the political structure in order to achieve their goals of establishing a true community and ending alienation. The New Communalists, however, believed political activism to be beside the point- that true community existed outside of traditional notions of chains of command. True community was to be found when transcendence from "the myth of objective consciousness" was achieved, and individual selves transformed.
-Charles Reich's The Greening of America detailed 3 historical stages of socioeconomic consciousness:
1. agriculture: farmers and small businessmen
2. industrial bureaucracies: society organized through complex organizations and new technologies of control and communication.
3. beaureaucratically levelled communities: harmonious collaborations working to end technocratic institutions.
-In this vein, if the mind is to be the source of change, then the sharing of information is a crucial step in that process- an "ebb and flow of communication".


This well explains the history of perceptions regarding information technologies. With this history in mind, it would be interesting to gauge the current perception of the Internet as it becomes increasingly a site for both interactivity/communication/community-building and corporate schemas, economically entrenched but intellectually dispersed.

On one end we have open source collaboration, but on the other we have the rise of a hegemonic Google institution. Somewhere in the middle lie social networking services such as Facebook and Myspace. In the ephemeral space of the Internet, however, time and power work together to allow for immediate collective awareness and consequent action. The trick is in the hook- for instance, Facebook alienated its users with the implementation of the News Feed, to the extent that its users collectively organized in protest. However, this collective organization would not have been possible WITHOUT Facebook, and in this way they are institutionalized. This happens when certain Internet systems become integrated in the daily functioning of individuals in society. To disengage from these systems would be to disengage with a symbolic structure of one's membership in her community.

If we are to examine Internet culture through the lens of Reich, it would seem we exist still in the second level of consciousness. If a counterculture exists on the Internet, it could do so in two ways: by utilizing the existing social institutions of the Internet to spread awareness and make political statements, or to abandon the existing institutions altogether in favor of a back-to-cyberspace approach of creating communal sites in which individuals work to raise their own consciousnesses and fulfill their human potentials.