Fractals in the Fred Turner book, fractals in nature, fractals in math and science! A great PBS Nova documentary to explain fractals:
Triumph of the Nerds, a 1996 BBC documentary features many of the people we have read about over the semester. Features the photo spread of Bill Gates’ debut in Teen Beat Magazine!
The two biggest concepts from this class that I am walking away with are, first, that the internet is not living up to the potential that was promised by those who promoted it as the future. Our internet use is reigned by advertisers who have crippling control over the majority of our online practices – social, commercial, and informative. However despite our dissatisfaction with the methods advertisers manipulate our online interactions, we are not doing nearly as much as we could, or should, to change the situation. The second concept from our readings that have influenced me is the history of the New Communalists, Stewart Brand’s influence of online and American society, and the way the two have built the information culture we embrace today.
Reflecting on these two concepts, I wonder how much more I would have comprehended and subsequently been moved by Astra Taylor’s book had we focused on her writing the second half of the semester after reading Fred Turner’s book the first half of the semester. Turner’s explanation of the New Communalists’ ideals being entwined into cybernetics was well thought out and really painted a clear picture of the intent of the internet and how the New Right twisted its potential- which leads right into Taylor’s views. In retrospect, Turner’s book is a very natural and informative pathway to Taylor’s passionate outrage. That being said, the Trebor Scholz collection of essays were informative but the concepts were too intricate for the amount of time we gave them. I do enjoy dismantling academic literature, but I felt alone in deciphering the text and it was never made clear if my understanding of the concepts were either on or off the mark. While it was good to write the hybrid assignments of my understanding, ideally we could have spent much more time discussing the concepts in class, or spent more than just one week on each of these involved essays.
Now to think back to the first day of class and how digital media structures my daily life – I still have the internal struggle to not look at my phone first thing every morning. This class has made me much more aware on how long our society has been driving toward this social-technical-information based culture. I am just as adamant about refraining from overt social media use and now weary about the excessive buying of new tech equipment which you can imagine, makes me really fun at parties.
In Chapter 6, Turner talks about the WorldView Meetings of the Global Business Network. Specifically on page 191 Turner describes the meetings:
“A close look at any one of these meetings suggests that they were served as important forums for the construction of both new networks and a new rhetoric of networks. They also offered participants a chance to imagine themselves as members of a mobile elite, able to glimpse in the natural and economic systems around them the invisible laws according to which all things functioned. In July 1993, for instance, ecologist Peter Warshall led a small number of GBN network members and clients on a multi-day rafting trip near Taos, New Mexico….”
Would you argue that elitism network was GBN’s only product? Could they have been as successful without it? What if they would have made effort to bring in other classes or races?
Turner states that “Wired magazine’s vision of the digital horizon emerged in part from its affiliations,” but as Turner more succinctly points out, the magazine’s founder and editor-in-chief Louis Rossetto himself boasted that Wired is not a magazine about technology, rather it is a magazine about people who are “the merger of computers, telecommunications and the media… transforming life at the cusp of the new millennium.” The magazine, much like the New Communalist movement, is the networking of information. In the case of Wired, the information is people. Wired’s “vision of the digital horizon” is nothing more than the people who, like Kevin Kelly, Esther Dyson, Stewart Brand, John Perry Barlow, and George Gilder, promote the evolution of digital networking and its uses through the growing use of computers as “entrepreneurial information workers.” These individuals, who claim themselves to be the technical elite in the pages of Wired that they write for and about themselves, legitimize their professional networks by endorsing one another’s ideas for improving the digital generation. It was customary of Wired to dismiss the idea of balanced reporting as it regularly published articles about its own staff writers and featured companies, like the Global Business Network, one of the magazine’s main investors.
An aspect of the New Communalist ideals that the promoters of the “New Economy” embraced was the turning away from politics. While the New Communalists of the 1960’s were non-political, in the 1990’s many of the technological elite identified not as non-political but rather as libertarian. What we learned from the 1995 interview between Esther Dyson and Newt Gingrich, is that the New Right embraced new technologies and the internet but purposely manipulated the contact language created with the techno-libertarians to misappropriate the New Communalist inspired non-hierarchical, non-government views and manipulate new internet laws to garner themselves (members of the New Right) more power through commercial growth, specifically through the telecommunications companies. In fact, these Republicans, through the creation of the “Magna Carta for the Knowledge Age”, claimed that little “necessary” hierarchies, and ultimately corporate deregulation were agreed upon ideas collaborated with representatives of the New Communalists, computer technologists and government representatives and that New Right politics were a countercultural revolution, to stop it would be to stop progress of technology and growth of America. Ultimately, the use of the networked professionals was manipulated and, to use the metaphor of people as computers, it can be said that the techno-liberals of Wired were hacked by the New Right.
By interpreting the descriptions given by Turner, the self governing system operates by being completely inclusive and dependent of itself. While it is not exactly self-perpetuating, it does, for lack of better phrasing, grow of its momentum – generating growth from the efforts put forth by the users but at the same time those efforts are the product consumed by the users. The act of the product being consumed creates more product, as well as increases the value of the product. And in the case of the WELL, what is the product? The product is a user community developed through forum based interaction AND the information that is shared through the conversations and relationships created on the WELL, which are both archived by the system and individually user managed.
The ability of the system to grow and evolve is made possible by the WELL managers who are equally uninvolved observers and involved as observers. They enable the system to operate in the model of a homeostat, that is being capable of adapting to its environment. The system is able to evolve because the managers make the boundaries pliable. The users themselves can manipulate the platform as they explore and test its boundaries, making the WELL develop as the users develop as individuals and not by direct involvement by managers. That is, the more the users experiment the more the platform will reflect those efforts. The managers do not push or suggest changes, they monitor the needs of the users and act accordingly by allowing the system to be manipulated.
The self governing system, using the WELL as a model, can be interpreted as an operating system in which the users have a great amount of control and create the world (platform, system, product) in which they want to interact (or consume). The more efforts put in by the users means more capabilities granted by the system moderators who are otherwise hands-off, which then cycles back to the users wanting to interact even more with the system as it improves (evolves). The cycle encompasses interpersonal (user community), electronic (user platform), and economic (user subscription) spheres so it, as a cyberculture, can perpetuate.
Stewart Brand from a young age was fearful of living in a hyperrationalized world and becoming a cold war inspired drone, an unthinking cog in the machine of a society that would not allow him to be an individual. His own experiences in collegiate life, then the military, left him dissatisfied with bureaucratic structures in which individualism was not encouraged, though through those life experiences at Stanford, as a draftee in the army, and later exploring the art scenes of New York and San Francisco inspired promotion of cross-genre social collaboration and communal experiences. Brands ideas that were formed by these experiences were in many ways supported by Buckminster Fuller’s comprehensive designer model as Brand’s own ideal for an individualistic society.
Brand adopted the ideas that societal evolution was dependant on each person as an individual in order to contribute and influence as a mass population. In addition to reading about such biological social structures, Brand read Buckminster Fuller’s ideas that offered Brand a worldview in which the technology and information developed in military and industrial society could be embraced in a way to avoid the annihilation of our species, rather than race toward it. Fuller believed that those technologies could and should be used for the benefit of society rather than for its end. Furthermore, Fuller explained that one did not have to turn away from the current media technologies developed by “adult society” to show disapproval of bureaucratic society, rather they could still be enjoyed and ultimately used in ways to transform society and build new communities. Fuller’s vision of a “comprehensive designer,” an outsider who objectively observes, interprets and applies information from various sources for the ultimate benefit of society, a person who, like a computer can process information, was inspired by military research culture that utilized intellectual social networking. This greatly inspired Brand and is reflected in his involvement with the USCO and the New Communalists, the ultimate goals were to utilize technology to connect information -connect people- and continue to find new ways to improve society in a way in which hierarchy and politics are irrelevant.
Fred Turner makes clear that though they are often confused and melded together, there are distinct differences between the counterculture, the New Left and the New Communalists, though all three wanted societal change. The counterculture was actually made of people with non-political, consciousness-altering, hedonistic, and introspective ideals. Those of the New Left were outwardly politically motivated Free Speech and Civil Rights activists who wanted to move away from the nuclear and militaristic technologies developed for WWII and the cold war. The New Communalists, named after the thousands of communes they formed between 1965 and 1972, removed themselves from mainstream society to form their own egalitarian societies and connect with one another by use of cold war era technology.
The activists of the New Left were motivated by their rejection of the cold war politics in which they were raised. They feared being part of the current government led bureaucratized society that created computer and nuclear technology through the joining together of military, industry, and academia – three areas that had always operated singularly prior to WWII yet continued to work together on military projects after WWII and into the cold war. But it was the developments that occurred on the path to creating the technology that was embraced by the New Communalists. For military research and civilian research to collaborate it meant that scientists not only had to cross into fields outside of their specialties, they also had to work together with different types of sciences toward common goals. They created never used before forms of networking, created new methods in academic and scientific language to communicate, and established social orders which inspired new ways of organizing information that was greatly shared and used outside of those specific military projects by other institutions and research laboratories. Though it was thought that government involvement would create a top-down social structure, in reality nonhierarchical social management occurred to establish realms of scientific collaboration of cybernetics and systems theory.
The New Communalists embraced these new ideas in collaboration and sharing inforation but rejected industrial-era technocratic bureaucracy. They pushed for social change not through politics like the New Left but through organized ways of thinking and networking, collaborating knowledge and information from one another in effort to reclaim the humanity in society.
The “whatever”, the internet’s capacity of giving a person, every person, a sense of individuality and anonymity through the same, or very similar, social media platforms is what Jodi Dean is talking about in her essay “Whatever Blogging”. Specifically, being part of the social media whole by participating in surveys, clicking on ads, posting our personal information on our Facebook pages but believing the myth that the individual is not being traced or monitored, that the individual choices of one person won’t make a change is simply not true. This “whatever” attitude, the new personality, the new marker of belonging, through communicativity is people’s use of social media to connect with one another and to belong, not so much to have a meaning interaction but to have and collect connections and promote ourselves to inflate our sense of self worth and have the feeling of individuality while having the same experiences as the masses.
Dean uses two examples in American history to explain this notion of “whatever being” and forms of communicativity. First, she uses Buck-Morss’ discussion of the role of film’s influence in the relationship Americans had with work in the Industrial Era. American’s endured the “drudgery” of factory life for the freedoms of consumption, in which many sought out the escapism of Hollywood films. The time spent in the theater was time in which the viewer did not have to be himself and could be whoever they fantasized about on screen. The collective action of watching a film of a crowded theater of other people having the identical experience does not diminish the individual experience mirrors the communicativity of current internet use.
On another note, Dean connects the fall of idealized domesticity in the United States and the consequential rise of feminism and television as another example of communicativity. The combination of the two movements made personal issues public issues as Dean explained it “eras(ed) the fragile and imaginary boundaries between personal and private, a line that made little sense after the rise of the social.” As the idealized nuclear family was no longer regarded as the norm, and the responsibilities of those traditional roles disappeared it created more room for individual freedoms and creativity, creating new individual identity for personal satisfaction. Countless American families experienced this same transformation, believing their own experience to be unique, during the same era.
To understand the connection Ahyan Aytes makes between Mechanical Turk and the 18th-century automaton chess player, first it is imperative to note that Wolfgang von Kempelen’s Automaton Chess Player was not, to use Edgar Allen Poe’s term, a “pure machine,” rather the choices of the automaton were controlled by Kempelen’s living assistant. The automaton’s dependence on human intelligence to operate is the model behind Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. At the automaton’s introduction it was understood to be teachable and under control of its human owner, but it was also a technology that people did not fully understand, in-between thinking of it as a living being and not fully grasping a machine operating when presented with variables. Even the use of the automaton to use the game of chess, it was understood that the finite number of chess moves could be made into code to control mechanics. Through its ability to make human thought like a machine and machine operate like human thought, it had great potential for the future in an industrial cognitive capitalism, in which Amazon later embraced.
If the automaton could make human decisions, a commodity that had always solely belonged to humans until that point, numerous machines operating to replace the need for human thought would decrease the value of the human thought and human action. This, through Amazon’s crowdsourcing platform of Mechanical Turk is exactly what happened. By exploiting labor laws by crossing global boarders and spreading thin the tasks of large jobs through the efforts of thousands of human workers, the work is disguised as if it were done solely by automation (like Kempelen’s Automaton), though truly done by people. The workers now are paid pennies for their unreplicatable (but easily replaceable) efforts. This is the connection Aytes makes between the automaton and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.
Terranova explains that is not that capitalism is swooping down on subcultures to exploit their efforts for profit, rather that once a subculture that has been incorporated, it is at the end of it’s creative cultural development. Though the subculture was originally volunteered into the creative commons, once it is mainstream it is no longer an organic development by the persons who initially created it and is at this point a product adopted by mass culture that is marketed and sold. The best way to understand what Terranova means by saying that such movements are not appropriated by capital from the outside it that culture cannot be created in a vacuum, therefore since capital exists and culture exists (or once it is created) it should be understood that all creative culture is created in the realm of capital. Though just because a subculture is created and capital exists, this in no way guarantees that all culture will be incorporated into the mainstream of capital, rather that everything created has the potential to be incorporated because the platform exists for exposure of culture to lead to the path of capital. In other words, capital practices can adopt a subculture but a subculture does not exist in a world without capital.
Subcultures sustain and grow on the idea of Terranova’s definition of digital economy in which social and cultural knowledge is pooled and shared, in effect its own type of labor not for monetary gains but personal interest in sharing and the growth of cultural industry. However, as this collective knowledge (the subculture) is shared and developed it has the potential to turn into a monetary value and then adopted into the mainstream culture and then turned into forms of capital. Once a subculture, or element of a subculture, is incorporated into the mainstream the element is no longer part of its original cultural development and has transformed into a new phase of culture. Terranova believes that this last mainstream phase of collective labor is not so much “selling out” as it is a transformation because of cultural experimentation, a new element of our digital history.