History, Reviews, Sociology

Review: Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture

jacket imageWriting in the December/January issue of Bookforum Steven Levy recalls a magazine article penned over thirty years ago by Stewart Brand. Levy notes that Brand’s article, published in Rolling Stone in 1972, was one of the first to bring the then-obscure world of computer hackers into public view. That legendary RS article, “Spacewar: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums”, is an example of how Brand, the impresario of the counterculture, was instrumental in transforming attitudes towards technology and shaping our digital culture. But the story behind Brand and the radical social transformation he nurtured has gone largely undocumented—until now. Levy writes:

Fred Turner, author of the sharply observed and painstakingly researched From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism, has produced a lengthy argument that Brand’s feat of bringing computer geeks into a magazine best known for rock-star journalism and gonzo attacks on Richard Nixon was just one step in a decades long crusade to transplant the ideals of the ’60s from the dirt-flecked fields of the commune to the elysian fields of cyberspace. In Turner’s meticulously detailed if somewhat slow-motion book, he postulates that Brand was an idealistic leader of a merry band of cybernetic pranksters who framed the concept of computers and the internet with a surprising twist: These one-time engines of government and big business had [transformed] into a social force associated with egalitarianism, personal empowerment, and the nurturing cocoon of community. Furthermore, says Turner, Brand’s promotion of this concept actually helped turn at least some of it into reality.

Indeed, From Counterculture to Cyberculture is a fascinating exploration of how networked culture came to be.
Read the introduction and an excerpt.