The Beginning of The End

// Posted by on 01/17/2014 (5:23 PM)

The opening chapters of Fred Turner’s, From Counterculture to Cyberculture, explore the historical context of  the utopian vision of computing technology as well as the metaphors, language, ideas, and movements that are linked to it.  He largely focuses on Stewart Brand, a networker who founded the Whole Earth Catalog and WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link) which were both focused on creating an openminded and flexible kind of culture.  Brand was an important figure in the idea of the Merry Pranksters as well as in the MIT media Lab.  From the 1960′s through the 1980′s, he experienced diverse environments and sought to link projects and people and promote new ways of thinking.  Brand’s enterprises over those two decades of “shifting politics”, Turner suggests, appear as precursors to the World Wide Web.

Turner also discusses the public perspective in 1967 and the fear and unrest that arose as computers were viewed as technologies of dehumanization, centralized bureaucracy, and the rationalization of human life.  Computers were an overt symbol of the military and the centralization of power.  People feared the creation of an automated society that was a potential threat to their freedom.  In the 1990′s, however, computers had served as the defining devices of cold war technocracy and emerged as the symbols of its transformation. Two decades after the end of the Vietnam War and the fading of the American counter culture, computers somehow seemed poised to bring to life the countercultural dream of empowered individualism, collaborative community, and spiritual communion (2).  It is interesting how in just thirty years, the cultural meaning of information technology shifted so drastically.  The power of computing, once seen a threat to freedom and a individuality, was soon perceived as encouraging to personal freedom, collaboration, dispersed authority, and knowledge.

After learning about the shift in perspective of technology from the 1960′s to the 1990′s, it is interesting to consider the view of the subject in my generation.  It is overly evident how ingrained technology is in our society today, particularly among the youth.  Walking around campus, it is almost rare to see a student hands-free, head up, taking in their immediate environment and the individuals who occupy it.  It is not hard to understand technologies’ massive role in influencing the world around us.  iPhones have replaced the need for face-to-face conversations and computers are now the popular substitute for books, newspapers, and magazines.  Seven-year-olds are asking for cellphones and computers as birthday gifts instead of bicycles or games.  Dinner conversations have taken a backseat to technological entertainment and car rides are often silent as everyone is “plugged-in”.  It is undeniable; we live in the digital age.

I often find these observations to be depressing, only reminders of how genuine social interactions have seemingly diminished into thin air.  It is almost as if someone’s texting or Facebook/Twitter/Instgram page is more of a representation of who they are than the individual him/herself.  For the majority of young people, technology is their primary device for communication and expression.  In my opinion, this only hinders their personable development as they spend increasing amounts of time focused on their digital appearence as well as the personalities portrayed by others.  Technology can often limit the imagination and creativity of young minds as they are bombarded with distractions on the web that are more often than not- well, garbage.   Some might argue that I have a biased view on how our generations technological networks have influenced our social interactions and that is probably accurate.  My opinion is formed by personal experience, however, and I tend to see technology today as a tool for a shallow interconnectedness that, ultimately, isolates us from one another. To me, this is where the irony lies.  A device created to connect humanity on a broad scale has the effect of distancing us when we are, physically, the closest.


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Kevin said...

I like your focus on how engrained technology has become in our society today. Everyone always has their phones out and almost seems to be engaged in their own world, as opposed to our campus community being fully engaged with each other while on campus. I do agree that it is a shame that iPhones have largely replaced face-to-face conversation, and I do believe our generation should try to keep our involvement with technology at a reasonable level. However, I can’t help but wonder if our never-ending involvement with technology is a result of the events discussed in the beginning of your post. It is clear that Brand and the rest of the counterculture movement were striving to develop some sort of larger society. WELL, for example, could almost be considered an early version of iMessage. A way for companies and individuals to instantly share ideas and collaborate without having to actually be with each other. Thus, although its clear that our society must take steps to monitor our digital intake, it almost seems as if our current state of technological addiction is a result of the groundbreaking ideas that took place during this cyberculture revolution. I wonder if they ever intended for us to involve ourselves with cyberculture to the point that we do today?

// 01/23/2014 at 1:16 pm

Deirdre said...

I agree that it is depressing that technology has taken over our lives to the point where communicating in person has almost become obsolete. I don’t think your view is biased and as a member of the same generation I too see the irony in the culture that has emerged as a result of increasing technological advances. I often talk with my parents about how sad it is that the personal skills of people our age have become worse and worse as years go by. While technology has offered us many advantages, namely the sharing of information, it has also hurt our interpersonal skills and made us less aware of our surroundings. It’s disturbing to me that the phrases “plugged in” or “re-charge” are ever used to describe the actions of people. We talked in class about humans as machines and people’s language usage in relation to technology. This just goes to show how ingrained technology is in our society. Cora made the point that technology isolates us from one another because it stifles interpersonal communication. At the same token, though, I would feel extremely isolated without my iphone to communicate with people. Again this shows the irony in the emergence of technology. It seems as though the introduction of phones and computers has been counterproductive; we can now communicate with each other on a broader scale, yet many now lack the personal skills that were once needed in daily life.

// 01/27/2014 at 11:39 am