The Beginning of The End
// Posted by Cora 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.