In Chapter 1 of From Cyberculture to Counterculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism, Turner speaks of “two somewhat overlapping but ultimately distinct social movements” (31) that formed as a response to the threat of technological bureaucracy felt by the youth of the 1960s. The anxieties over the peril of nuclear warfare, coupled with the uncertainties of their own professional futures, gave young people –mostly college students – the incentive to break away from mainstream society into these two groups. The first group, known as the “New Left,” grew out of the fight for civil rights and was committed to social change through protests, sit-ins, civil disobedience and the forming of political parties. Protesting the Vietnam War became their biggest cause. While this group turned toward political action, the second group Turner discusses turned toward Zen Buddhism, Beat poetry and eventually psychedelic drugs and music to enhance their consciousness. While the first group was more concerned with the betterment of society for all, the second group often referred to as “counterculture” was more concerned with their personal selves.
The counterculture was a threat to both the Right and the New Left. The Right saw their drug use and open sexual mores as a challenge to conservative American values. The New Left saw them as a threat to their political struggles and a temptation to their members to abandon their righteous fight for the more alluring hippie culture. Turner differentiates between the New Left and the Counterculture by calling our attention to what he calls the “New Communalists. “The New Communalists include the tens of thousands of counterculture members who between 1967 and 1970, broke away to form communes across the country. In forming communes they were turning away from the middle class cold war America and toward a vision of “a new nation, a land of small egalitarian communities linked to one another by a network of shared beliefs.” (33) Unlike the New Left, the new Communalists saw the value of a “free” culture in which the Internet could be expereinced as a social movement. Their movement was a movement of the mind and by turning toward consciousness they “opened new doors to mainstream culture, and particularly to high-technology research culture.” (38) They embraced cybernetics as a way to increase peer-to-peer channels of information and a vision for a better future as made evident in the 1967 poem by Richard Brautigan that Turner uses to close the chapter.