Turner connects the early intellectual and interpersonal affiliations with Kevin Kelly and the Whole Earth network and, through them, from the New Communalist embrace of the politics of consciousness with the interview in the August 1995 issue of Wired between Esther Dyson and New Gingrich by describing this new generation as a growing political force that has developed from a single network of a nonheirarchical society. Much like the New Communalists of the 60s and 70s the Digital Generation sought to create an infrastructure for a better world using technology.
The Digital Generation, of course, had better tools to be a force in society. Their reach has gone to corporations, politics and education in a way that the New Communalists could never reach. The internet and digital communication allowed for a society that very connected, yet decentralized and had the nonheirarchical format that was key to the New Communalists way of thinking.
Libertarians became a key part in this Digital Generation as far as politics were concerned. They believed that the internet should be deregulated without government interference much like what the New Communalists believed in the 60s and 70s. The internet and digital communication would be a new form of economy and the people at Wired, like the WELL and the Whole Earth Review believed that people should have access to this, especially people who can spread knowledge in a cybernetic way.
Out of this Digital Generation a New Right was formed based on Libertarianism and the right for a deregulated internet. The New Right, during the 90’s, was formed to cut back on government entitlements and the deregulation of industry that wanted to downsize government in telecommunications. The New Right, in my opinion is still here today, broadening their deregulations to elections and big business. The deregulations are not made for the good of the people, but done for the good of those who have money to influence the decisions makers. In reading this article it is easy to see how the New Communalists were really part of the 1% that we see today.
Well, this chapter focused on making it abundantly clear that the network of corporate/political alliances that arose through the pages of WIRED during the first five years of the magazine had long reaching effects on the shape that the web and its attendant technologies assumed. Basically the web and the world look the way they do because of the affiliations between the ideological and technical impressions that that WIRED gang penned and partnered with actual politicians that were socially conservative and had their hands in creating legislation that would make the development of various technologies and the corporate structures from which they issued free to do as they wanted. Esther Dyson and Newt Gingrich go on to write “The Magna Carta for the Knowledge Age” which later becomes the guiding principle to Gingrich’s efforts (successful) to deregulate the telecommunications industry. People want to make money and want to feel free to do so – without any legislative restrictions to hold them accountable to the means by which they do so – and to ward off any socially inspired pangs of conflict over what they do. Gingrich and his political base to render, in absolute terms, personal freedoms with corporate deregulation, utilized the “Magna Carta” that these two created. This document was like a Manifest Destiny for the “frontier of cyberspace” and in my impression replicates much of what American exceptionalism is about – that entrepreneurial and vigilante sensibility specific to the business individualism that stands in for the idea of freedom.
I always find it bizarre when an obvious spiritual guru or pundit partners with the corporate sector to develop interpersonal pedagogy for business relations, or rather when an aforementioned mystical figures ideology is utilized for business minded ends. (Thinking about the mention of Gurdjieff’s “Remarkable Men” concept as employed by Pierre Wack at Shell.) This occurs on page 185.
Drawing on the mish mash of information that Turner provides in chapter 6, I can see how this trend was established via the Global Business Network and their web of connections, though nothing about it seems remarkable to me or even slightly different than what I imagine the Business/Corporate sector operated like, pre-cold war New Communalist “innovation”.
Isn’t it all just nepotism and an elite class protecting its interconnected interests? That’s literally my question.
Like what even is the remarkable social change that this global business network is achieving? Do they just feel better about how they extract resources and labor from the global south because they incorporate more holistic activities into their managerial profile?
In many ways this chapter is like a confirmation of whatever off the wall conspiracy theories one could conjure about the corporate tech elite. I don’t really feel swayed by the jargon that Turner parrots in this chapter – all the talk about these networks bonding together and seeking to unify their business goals with vaguely New Communalist socio-ethics and consciousness is really tiresome. I don’t know what that means, even with the pages and pages of detailed historical charting.
I suppose the only piece that seemed personally relevant or of interest was the mention of Paul Hawken – the organic grocer/founder of Erewhon Trading Company and later Smith & Hawken gardening supply company. My best friend used to work for Smith & Hawken, and I am very familiar with Erewhon – the natural foods brand. I used to work in the Health and Wellness industry and watched Whole Foods become the behemoth that it is (specifically in New York City) over the last 13 years. The CEO and “spiritual” founder of Whole Foods Market is a man named John Mackey – a noted multi-millionaire, organic foods proponent, and libertarian. He wrote a book called conscious capitalism (cringe) and is himself a mish mash of holistic seeming eco-ethics and terrible labor practices.
All that to say, I wonder if perhaps the influence of the particular confluence of socially indebted change making that the Global Business Network derived from its blend of New Communalist derived interdisciplinary and politically conscious, information systems informed networking has rubbed off on other industries outside of the tech bubble climate. We see this with the big players mentioned in chapter 6 – shell, and other evil empires, but I am wondering if we see can trace this methodology of doing business to other arenas – such as lifestyle peddling empires like Whole Foods Market. I would identify Mark Zuckerberg as an heir to this innovation – not just because he wields the (arguably) most powerful social practice technology to have arisen in this century – but because the earnestness of his ideas about connection harken back to a lot of what the New Communalist networks were about – trading information and building relationships via platforms such as the Whole Earth Catalog and the WeLL.
What figure would you identify as belonging to this kind of social/business practice enterprise mentality?
At the chapter 7 “Wired”, Turner argues that “a close look at Wired’s first and most influential five years suggests that the magazine’s vision of the digital horizon emerged in large part from its intellectual and interpersonal affiliations with Kevin Kelly and the Whole Earth network and, through them, from the New Communalist embrace of the politics of consciousness.” The magazine “Wired”, Turner argues, was as much a lifestyle magazine promoting social and cultural networks as much as a computer magazine promoting technical networks, “There are a lot of magazines about technology. Wired is not one of them. Wired is about the most powerful people on the planet today—the Digital Generation. These are the people who not only foresaw how the merger of computers, telecommunications and the media is transforming life at the cusp of the new millennium, they are making it happen”. Wired magazine was as an ideological consequence of the Whole Earth ideology. Turner argues that, contrary to conventional accounts that explain how Wired magazine developed out of a libertarian political philosophy, it actually had one foot in the Whole Earth ideology as well. I am sorry but I didn’t understand the chapter completely, it got me a little confuses. It is hard for me to answer the question.
I remember seeing the Wired cover with Newt Gingrich and being mostly confused by it at the time because the social conservatism of the so called Republican Revolution. I identified Wired at the time with Bay Area leftists, largely conflating Silicon Valley and its evangelists with the progressive countercultural heads of the 1960s due to its geography. Over the years, I became convinced I was incorrect and that in fact there must have been some sort of entrenched conservatism that led to the celebration of free market ideology. Turner makes the case fairly convincingly in Chapter 6 that my initial hunch was at least partially correct, though before reading this book, it was hard to understand how countercultural veterans morphed into modern day libertarians. Turner demonstrates how the anti-bureaucratic rhetoric being pushed by the New Communalists dovetailed perfectly with the message being pushed by Gingrich and his colleagues. While that Congress is largely remembered for impeaching Clinton and inaugurating a rash of socially conservative reforms (most notably to welfare), they also picked up on the ideology of Reagan and Milton Friedman, pushing an agenda of nimbler, leaner deregulated America that followed the dictates of the free market. While Turner posits that the former New Communalists developed relationships with people like Gingrich due to an ideological kinship fomented by “market populism” it seems to me slightly more plausible that these alliances were just as likely to be materially motivated. In the burgeoning entrepreneurial model that was coming to comprise Silicon Valley, there was a need for startup capital that would lift many of the fledgling companies out of garages and into access to the financial markets that would allow them to grow into the mega-corporations many of them are today. For Turner, the notion of free consciousness, so ballyhooed by the New Communalists, gave way to the belief in the internet as the medium for realizing free, interconnected consciousness. This seemed to coincide neatly with the market populism being pushed by Gingrich and others who could themselves see the internet having adequately prepared the country to live out their fantasy of free economic exchange. It’s a compelling argument, but having read a little about how Silicon Valley grew into what it is today, the metaphor was indeed little more than a convenient rhetorical device to serve both the political actors and the V.C.s looking to grow their wealth unfettered by government interference. Later when Turner talks about how this unholy alliance led to the the Telecommunications Act, I think he’s on slightly firmer ground as it points to a very specific policy objective that benefited tech companies and points to the influence of a clear lobbying strategy.
When Turner describes the crafting of the Telecommunications Act as the magna carta of internet (de)regulation, he draws a parallel to Gingrich’s party’s Contract with America. (p. 231)
In chapter 6, Turner reports, “In 1987 the networks and cybernetic thought style of the Learning Conferences became the basis of the Global Business Network (GBN)” (183). How did the Learning Conference model explore group learning as a way of networking? How did the countercultural social theory which contributed to the Learning Conferences evolve into the Global Business Network, a consulting firm with corporate clients?
In response to this week’s hybrid assignment question – I can’t say that I understand the relationship of the question to the subject matter enough to be able to form a response. I have read this a few times trying to relate it to the question, but it has eluded me. I am hoping to understand this relationship between the question and the reading through our class discussion, after which, I then may find it possible to answer & repost for this response.
Digital media and Society
December 8, 2015
Wired and New Right Politics
In the chapter titled “Wired”, Turner walks us through the events that lead to the convergence of new communication technologies and new right wing politics. He focuses on the role that “Wired” magazine had during its first five years, and its many influential contributors that promoted ideas of personal and collective liberation through the “computational metaphor”. Towards the end of the chapter, Turner uses Wired’s 1995 interview of then Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich to illustrate the cusp of this convergence, and the influence that the use of interpersonal networks had in presenting the Internet as a political sphere.
During this interview between Dyson and Gengrich “they depicted the Internet as a model of an ideally decentralized and in many ways degovernmentalized society, and as a tool to which bring that society about” (p. 231). In this way, Dyson and Gengrich married countercultural ideas of leveling hierarchies with the social conservative ideas of the New Right, through the use of new communication systems. However, “for the New Communalists, transforming consciousness had meant stepping outside party politics” (p. 219), and so for New Right dogmatist to bridge these opposite definitions of counterculture, and to explain how one can be countercultural while heading to Washington at the same time, it took some building up to which was the role of Wired magazine for its first five years.
Turner explains that to bridge these ideas, Wired and its contributors engaged in a “cycle of mutual legitimation”. They made use of the interpersonal networks gained from “The Whole Earth” and the “WELL”, allowing stories “by and about members of the editor’s personal and professional networks” (p. 217). They used editorial techniques to legitimize politicians that were pro-deregulation and global market place, while these politicians then could legitimize new communication technologies as essential to the national interest. Through this cycle, both spheres attempted to prove that “their current work was an extension of the 1960s consciousness revolution” (p. 219).
The Newt Gengrich interview was in a way, the icing on the cake, legitimizing the intersections between the technological, the Whole Earth, and the political sphere. By entering the political sphere the tech community stood for the open market proposal, and this in turn, gave way to looking at digital technology as a “tool and symbol of business” (p. 232) and thus also entering the corporate sphere.
In chapter 7, Turner reports on the history of Wired magazine and the people who played a part in its evolution, beginning with its conception by Louis Rossetto and Jayne Metcalfe. Kevin Kelly, who had been a writer for the Whole Earth Catalog and the Well, was hired as the founding editor, bringing with him “the simultaneously cybernetic and New Communalist social vision of the Whole Earth publications and their networked style of editorial work.” (209) From the beginning, the New Communalist ideology was a large influence in the editorial content of Wired. Articles from Wired were discussed on the Well and members such as Stewart Brand, Howard Rheingold and John Perry Barlow wrote articles for the magazine. “Editorially, Wired made no pretense of pursuing balance in either its point of view or its sources.” (216)
Turner connects these early affiliations with the New Communalists to the Esther Dyson/ Newt Gingrich interview by way of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the Global Business Network and the Media Lab. The EFF, founded to promote digital rights and preserve personal liberties, was linked in a 1994 Wired article to the Merry Pranksters when writer Joshua Quittner “suggested that their current work was an extension of the 1960s consciousness revolution, undertaken with grown-up sobriety.” (219) Turner argues that these groups were the prototypes for ways to organize a life in the emerging world. While bringing the ideals of the New Communalists, they also were fighting for telecommunications deregulation in which they shared common ground with New Right politicians such as Newt Gingrich. While Dyson did not share the same politics with Gingrich, in the 1995 article in Wired magazine, they seem to agree on some things. After what I had read about Dyson, I expected the interview to be more confrontational. But they shared a similar agenda in maintaining the Internet as a model of a decentralized society and a “new frontier” in which cyberspace belonged to the people and should not be censored by the government. In one section of the article they discuss the legality of encryption when it comes to terrorist threats and if it will or should be illegal for some groups to use encryption. It’s hard to believe they were having this conversation 20 years ago. In 1995, the article apparently was a big step in aligning the former counterculturalists, New Right conservatives and the computer industry.
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?