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From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism Paperback – 15 Sep 2006

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Product details

  • Paperback: 354 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press (15 Sept. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226817423
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226817422
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.5 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 29,005 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


"Brand''s trajectory from arty 60s mayhem to the halls of Congress reflects, Turner argues, a realisation that ''the natural world and the social world really "were" all one system of information exchange.''"

"Turner convincingly portrays a cadre of journalists who strove to transform the idea of the computer from a threat during the Cold War into a means of achieving personal freedom in an emerging digital uptopia."

"Chapter by chapter, Fred Turner shows inventively and with a deep knowledge of the whole scene how cold war technology met hippie communalism to produce the "Whole Earth Catalog," WELL, "Wired," and everything that followed. This book is a tour de force of historical digging, sociological analysis, and full understanding."

"In Turner''s meticulously detailed . . . book, he postulates that Brand was an idealistic (albeit Barnum-esque) leader of a merry band of cybernetic pranksters who framed the concept of computers and the Internet with a seemingly nonintuitive twist: These one-time engines of government and big business had transmogrified into a social force associated with egalitarianism, personal empowerment, and the nurturing cocoon of community."

"Turner''s fascinating "From Counterculture to Cyberculture" gives us a detailed look at one slice through this marvelous story. Unlike many other histories that focus on the technical innovators . . . this account focuses on a key player whose role was making the counterculture-cyberculture connection: Stewart Brand. . . . There are a myriad of fascinating little historical details that [Turner] dug up that will surprise and enlighten even the key players in the drama."

"With its countercurrents and nuances, [the book] recalls works of the highest standard that also address technology''s interactions with national culture: David E. Nye''s "American Technological Sublime" (1994) comes to mind, as does Norman Mailer''s ''Of a Fire on the Moon'' (1971). . . . One of the many strengths . . . is that [the book] articulates the sociological forces that created this revolution in our time. Twenty-nine dollars will never buy you more book than this."

"Fred Turner's richly detailed history of how the alliance between the counterculture and "digirati" was formed is a fascinating story demonstrating that the computer's metaphoric implications are never simply the result of the technology itself. Engrossing, deeply researched, and rich with implications, "From Counterculture to Cyberculture" is highly recommended for anyone interested in how technological objects attain meaning within social and historical contexts."--N. Katherine Hayles

"Turner''s enjoyable deep cultural history traces the roots of 1990s techno-utopianism in the acid tests and communes of the 1960s." -- Steven Poole "Guardian" (08/23/2008)

About the Author

Fred Turner is assistant professor in the department of communication at Stanford University. He is the author of Echoes of Combat: The Vietnam War in American Memory.

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Format: Hardcover
This is the first attempt to tell the remarkable story of Stewart Brand - one of the most influential men of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. And it achieves it brilliantly.

The story is book-ended by two important publications - Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Kevin Kelly's Wired magazine.

In the former, set in San Francisco in the mid 'sixties, Brand joined Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters in their search for the alternative consciousness and sense of community provided by LSD and a variety of mind altering chemical and technological stimulants.

In the latter, the action moves out to the Bay Area and we see Brand, Kelly and the electro-hippies seeking their own escape from the hierarchies of control in what they saw as the coming digital utopia.

In between, Turner displays a masterful command of the popular culture and technological landscape that Brand so nimbly traversed. In one of the many excellent reviews this book receives on, someone describes Brand as 'Zelig-like'. Yet, in the Woody Allen movie, Zelig was an incidental observer at landmark events. Brand, however, was aways a major player - absorbing new ideas, seeking and making connections where none appeared to exist and, most importantly, making things happen.

From Kesey's bus to organising the Trips Festival that kicked off San Francisco's Summer of Love; from the breakthrough demonstration of the moveable mouse interface to the launch of The Whole Earth Catalog (which Steve Jobs described as the offline www); from WELL, the first real working computer network to the launch of Wired, Brand was at the very centre of events that have shaped our world.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program) 4.0 out of 5 stars 21 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insight into America's cultural transformation 3 July 2008
By Malvin - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"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.
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant cultural history based in part on Stewart Brand's personal ... 25 Nov. 2015
By Roger Brindle - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Brilliant cultural history based in part on Stewart Brand's personal archives, donated to Stanford where Turner teaches. Stewart edited the Whole Earth Catalog for years. They used early computing equipment, including the first Macs and eventually the catalog and Whole Earth Review changed focus from "back to the land" to the future of computing. From hippieesque communes to what is coming next from the MIT laboratories about the future of computing. Fascinating insights into the background of computer programmers and how they got the deep seated belief that they can engineer the future.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good job on a great topic 15 Mar. 2010
By Douglas Kamp - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Every dog has its day, and the past couple weeks for this reader have been Fred Turner's day. Served within the confines of this simple looking book is a compelling account of the activities and ideas surrounding high-culture development and maintenance centered in the San Francisco Bay Area. Fred Turner's résumé as a faculty member at Stanford, Harvard, and MIT, plus his work history as a journalist for eight years in Boston, lend authority and depth to the narrative. On top of that, his writing style will be found engaging and easy to read for those accustomed to scholarly reports. His matter-of-fact treatment of LSD will be especially gratifying for outlanders such as myself--people who by the nature of their individual personal journeys through life have not had much direct exposure to the big-time survival-circus surrounding cutting edge technology, nor to the countercultural history surrounding Stewart Brand and his disparate networks of fellow adventurers. This book has been a welcome step in the direction of connecting with people I have learned to admire. So buy it and get ready for a great mix of cybernetics, systems theory, WWII weapons labs, and all the rest. You won't believe the stuff this guy has dug up.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Important book about a major influence of the 60's through the 90's 22 May 2007
By Chris A. Cunningham - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As someone who was deeply and profoundly influenced by the WEC, WER, and the WELL, I found this to both reinvigorate the excitement of the different eras it discusses and, also, to tie them together and provide fresh insights. After I finished it I looked around my office and realized how much of my thinking was influenced by Steward Brand and his experiments. Easily 30% of the books in my library were originally recommended in either the Catalog or the Review. I was also an early WELL subscriber and a `Maniacal' Whole Earth Review subscriber so almost everything mentioned here I could relate to.

It may devolve into `professor-speak' at times but it is well worth it. If you want to know about one of the critical components of both the `counter culture' of the 60's and the internet revolution of the 90's this is a must read.
5.0 out of 5 stars Unusually intriguing, yet true... 19 Feb. 2014
By xebeck - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I found the book a bit dull in the beginning, due to its chronologic nature; but nevertheless, very interesting and absorbing after the fact that its full of detailed descriptions and historical occurrences, weren't all known to the vast majority of critics and pundits from today's Interconnected world.

I'd recommend the book to undergraduates and graduate students that want to become better educated in today's new technological revolution, especially in Computer Science fields.
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