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Changing Perceptions In Regards To Computers and Technology

// Posted by on 01/20/2014 (11:33 AM)

Stewart Brand

Chapters 1 and 2 of From Counterculture to Cyberculture discusses the early movements towards accepting technology and seeing the vast potential of computers.  As discussed in Chapter 1, a protest was held at the University of California… Read more

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Stewart Brand

Chapters 1 and 2 of From Counterculture to Cyberculture discusses the early movements towards accepting technology and seeing the vast potential of computers.  As discussed in Chapter 1, a protest was held at the University of California on December 2nd, 1964 where student leader, Mario Savio, gave a poetic speech protesting the notion of students being regarded as machines.  His words expressed the fear students held regarding becoming merely a part of the machine, and expressed how they wanted to be treated as individuals with the freedoms to choose their own path.  In many ways, this student fear of being utilized similar to computational devices was largely due to the military being the most common use for computers at the time.  As a result, there was this concern rising from the younger generation that they themselves would become governmental tools.

However, a large force working to change this perception of computers and technology was the counterculture movement developing throughout the younger generation.  This movement was characterized by drug use and a sense of community.  Communes started to spread across the country, yet were most centralized in San Francisco, CA.  These communes provides locations for individuals to live in harmony, while experimenting with psychedelic drugs such as LSD.  LSD was a drug that many attest made them feel as if they were part of something larger, which made individuals feel more comfortable with the idea of being part of a global community.  Obviously this is much farther down the line, but I want to stress the idea that this acceptance of a global community was a very crucial step in seeing the value of computers and technology.  This level of acceptance marked a change from the periods of protest, such as those at the University of California in 1964, which created a pathway for individuals such as Stewart Brand (pictured above) to push the envelope for this larger, tech-based community.

Stewart Brand played a huge part in this movement primarily by making connections with various individuals on the front-end of the counterculture movement.  He travelled frequently between San Francisco and New York City, making friends everywhere he went in order to extend his network of contacts leading up to the cyberculture movement.  As his network extended, he prepared for the release of the Whole Earth Catalog, which was a magazine pertaining largely to the counterculture and cyberculture movement developing in the United States.  Moving forward, this magazine would serve as a base to grow and develop these movements, as Stewart Brand was able to connect visionaries across the country and allow for collaboration amongst these individuals.  In essence, the counterculture movement and Stewart Brands efforts to expose developing ideas marked the period of changing perceptions in regards to computers and technology.


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The New Hippie?

// Posted by on 01/28/2012 (4:34 PM)

During the 1960s-1970s the United States went through a Hippie Movement when people made the choice to leave the cities and go back to living on their own. Hippies opposed of the political and social violence during their… Read more

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During the 1960s-1970s the United States went through a Hippie Movement when people made the choice to leave the cities and go back to living on their own. Hippies opposed of the political and social violence during their time and promoted an ideology that focused on peace love and personal freedom. Although that seems like it could be a good thing, in some ways it wasn’t. Hippies promoted the use of psychedelic drugs believing that they expanded their consciousness. They left cities and moved out west to live in communes like Drop City and the Farm (which is still going). Communes gave the people that lived there a sense of freedom, everything they did was off the grid and they did it because they wanted to not because they had to. But the peace and love age of the hippies didn’t last long. 1969 brought one of the biggest gatherings of hippies at the Woodstock festival. Hundreds of thousands gathered to listen to music and partake drug use and free love. Soon after Woodstock came the Altamont Free Concert, again hundreds of thousands attended but unlike Woodstock, the Altamont Free Concert was not peaceful. The Hells Angels provided security for the event and it broke out in a chaos. A person ended up stabbed and killed and this brought a bad name to the hippie culture.

The History of the Woodstock Festival

Altamont Free Concert -- Death of Meredith Hunter

 

The end of Hippie movement brought the end of the commune life. Hippies had to learn how to readjust into a mainstream adult world. Stewart Brand founder of the Whole Earth Catalog supported commune life style at its start. He created the Catalog to spread ideas and products to the communes, in some ways creating the first ‘blog’ like publication. People were able to contribute to the Catalog by submitting reviews or how-to’s and this gave its readers a sense of connecting to the document. Although Brand supported the communes at the start, as the digital age came up Brand saw the necessity of becoming involved in this new society. Computers and the internet brought a new world into orbit and everyone somehow became a part of it. Now almost fifty years later what happened to this hippie culture? What happened to the peace and love ideology that so many became part of?

Nothing. It still very much exists. Maybe not in the retrospect that they did in the 1960′s but the hippie culture still exists. Commune like communities are still around and people still live off the land. They just do it in a little bit different way. Instead of purely living off the land and staying away from a governed world they hold jobs in the ‘real’ world but live in these communalistic style communities where they farmed and lived off the land. Groups of over a hundred people will gather together to live and work the land, turning away from some digital technologies and processed foods. There is entertainment through the community where the members perform for each other, instead of blogs there are community boards with things that are going on and events going on. Everyone knows each other and they live in a peaceful state. But is this really like the hippie culture of the 1960s or is this a new culture all on its own?

Virginia Commune Still Draws Members after 40 Years

Today’s hippie culture is a mold of the 1960s past hippie in today’s new age. There is no way a hippie of the 1960′s could survive in today’s culture of digital media and easy access. It’s not probable for someone to live fully off the land and not participate in society, but even though it’s not probable people still do it. The hippie culture still exists. Younger generations today are embracing the hippie culture against government protocols and protecting the natural world that has slowly began to deteriorate. They embrace the sense of freedom that they receive from it as well as the values of anti-materialism and non-violence. Hundreds of communes still operate around the United States, some even thriving. But these new hippies still have cell phones and cars; they are not walking across the country, hitchhiking on interstates to get to the newest commune. They post on blogs about their findings and new areas they are exploring. Instead of the World Earth Catalog they have switched into a digital space where they can reach each other across the country. They gather together to spread ideas keeping the culture alive even today.

Rainbow Family 2011 Gathering

Will the hippie culture rise again? Will we have the counterculture movement that we did almost fifty years ago or will they continue to live in the shadows of this new digital age?


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Spacewar: “A Flawless Crystal Ball”

// Posted by on 01/23/2012 (10:08 PM)

In his 1972 article in Rolling Stone, Stewart Brand delves into Spacewar, the first digital computer game developed by Steve Russell. Ironically, for Brand, “gaming” did not yet exist (we need to flash forward about 8 years to see the… Read more

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In his 1972 article in Rolling Stone, Stewart Brand delves into Spacewar, the first digital computer game developed by Steve Russell. Ironically, for Brand, “gaming” did not yet exist (we need to flash forward about 8 years to see the world of gaming explode). So his report didn’t credit Spacewar as part of a natural progression of software or even hacking, and Brand definitely did not view it as genuine piece of the technology revolution puzzle, but it was still fun.

What Brand did acknowledge about Spacewar was (as quoted from Spacewar: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums):

  • It was intensely interactive in real time with the computer.
  • It encouraged new programming by the user.
  • It bonded human and machine through a responsive broadband interface of live graphics display.
  • It served primarily as a communication device between humans.
  • It was a game.
  • It functioned best on, stand-alone equipment (and disrupted multiple-user equipment).
  • It served human interest, not machine. (Spacewar is trivial to a computer.)
  • It was delightful.

So Spacewar was a crystal ball… how?

Recently I stumbled upon this gem of a TED Talk:

Now I am probably the furthest thing from a gamer, so McGonial’s theory was eye opening, even if I didn’t really buy it.

My disclaimer before I get into Spacewar’s prophecy, if you will…

I apologize to any mother whose gamer also stumbles upon Jane McGonigal’s talk. Much to your and Marie Hemming’s (see comments on McGonigal’s Talk and you will quickly learn why) dismay this will only encourage his/her gaming.

Now onto the “how”… (based on McGonigal’s theory)

Spacewar was interactive:

  • COLLABORATORS: at every level and mission, hundreds of thousands of people ready to work with you
  • EPIC STORY: inspiring story of why we’re there, and what we’re doing
  • POSITIVE FEEDBACK: leveling up, plus-one strength, and plus-one intelligence

 

Spacewar encouraged new programming:

McGonigal created three games that that are an attempt to give people the means to create epic wins in their own futures:

  1. World Without Oil: an online game in which you try to survive an oil shortage
  2. Superstruct at The Institute For The Future: the premise was a supercomputer has calculated that humans have only 23 years left on the planet.
  3. Evoke: if you complete the game you will be certified by the World Bank Institute, as a Social Innovator

Spacewar bonded human & machine through graphics:

photo by Phil Toledano

 

Jane McGonigal explains the above gamer expression, photographed by Phil Toledano, as:

“a classic gaming emotion… if you’re not a gamer, you might miss some of the nuance in this photo. You probably see the sense of urgency, a little bit of fear, but intense concentration,deep, deep focus on tackling a really difficult problem… If you are a gamer, you will notice a few nuances here: the crinkle of the eyes up, and around the mouth is a sign of optimism, and the eyebrows up is surprise. This is a gamer who is on the verge of something called an epic win.”

McGonigal hopes to make it as easy to achieve an epic win in the real world as the virtual world.

 

Spacewar served as a communication device between humans:

Games like World of Warcraft make gamers virtuosos at: WEAVING A TIGHT SOCIAL FABRIC

“There’s a lot of interesting research that shows that we like people better after we play a game with them, even if they’ve beaten us badly. And the reason is, it takes a lot of trust to play a game with someone. We trust that they will spend their time with us, that they will play by the same rules, value the same goal, they’ll stay with the game until it’s over. And so, playing a game together actually builds up bonds and trust and cooperation. And we actually build stronger social relationships as a result.”

 

Spacewar was a game:

Games can save a civilization, as McGonigal explains through Herodotus’ story of Lydia during an 18 year famine which eventually lead to the Etruscans. Games allow us to ignore real-world suffering because they are engaging and immerse the player in satisfying blissful productivity. McGonigal believes if we game long enough, we can eventually solve real-world problems instead of virtual ones.

 

Spacewar served human interest:

McGonigal claims that if we want to solve problems like hunger, poverty, climate change, global conflict, obesity, we need to aspire to play games online for at least 21 billion hours a week, by the end of the next decade. We need to answer these questions:

What about games makes it impossible to feel that we can’t achieve everything? How can we take those feelings from games and apply them to real-world work?

 

Spacewar was delightful:

Games like World of Warcraft also make gamers virtuosos at: URGENT OPTIMISM

“Think of this as extreme self-motivation. Urgent optimism is the desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle, combined with the belief that we have a reasonable hope of success. Gamers always believe that an epic win is possible, and that it is always worth trying, and trying now”

 

So, the question then becomes: do you think gaming can save the world?

 

Jane McGonigal: How gaming can make a better world


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Exclusion Fever

// Posted by on 01/20/2012 (2:39 PM)

Fred Turner’s From Counterculture to Cyberculture not only provides an accurate history of the Whole Earth Network, but also convincing arguments discussing both its positive and negative aspects. With the ultimate hope of a Utopian future, participants in the counterculture… Read more

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Fred Turner’s From Counterculture to Cyberculture not only provides an accurate history of the Whole Earth Network, but also convincing arguments discussing both its positive and negative aspects. With the ultimate hope of a Utopian future, participants in the counterculture that blossomed in the late 1960s embraced the ideals of psychedelics such as LSD. The high provided by such drugs allowed one to see things differently, feel liberated from the looming nuclear (and by association Communist) threat, have an individual yet communal experience, and have enlightened thoughts. Stewart Brand – one of the most influential participants in this counterculture, as well as creator of The Whole Earth Catalog, genuinely worried about losing his identity as he grew up in the 1950s, a period characterized by containment, anxiety, and fear. This desire to actively seek, secure, and improve one’s identity was very common among active supporters and members of this counterculture, and more specifically the Whole Earth Network.

Stewart Brand

While the liberal concept behind the Whole Earth Network might seem attractive at first, Turner has persuasively provided legitimized criticisms for this “way of life” Brand created. The following five points are representative of Turner’s critique:

  1. Members disregarded and ignored racial issues
  2. Traditional stereotypical masculine and feminine roles were enforced and continued
  3. Communalists acted as colonizers
  4. Members ignored the current Vietnam War
  5. Members utilized mainstream culture yet denounced it at the same time

The first point is especially intriguing. While the members of this counterculture envisioned a peaceful Utopian environment that was all-inclusive and welcoming, practically all of them were white Americans. The vast majority of this white crowd was young, well educated, intelligent, and wealthy. Without blatantly vocalizing racist views, the homogenous members all demonstrated an adherence to them. In The Whole Earth Catalog itself, only white men and (sometimes) women were pictured. This ignorance of other races proves to be even less liberal and progressive given the time period, when the fight for Civil Rights had just gained major publicity and attention. However, the members of the Whole Earth Network weren’t the only exclusive group at the time.

From 1960 through 1975, a revolution was occurring known as the Black Arts Movement (BAM). This site (Perceptions of Black) provides a detailed background of the movement as well as Black art images and excerpts from texts relevant to BAM debates. As the introduction points out:

“Advancing African American liberation through self-determinacy and, in time, Black Nationalism, the ‘Black Power Concept’ directed African Americans to separate from mainstream (understood as white) society to determine ‘who are black people, what are black people, and what is their relationship to America and the rest of the world’ ”

The BAM intentionally excluded the black community from the rest of America in order to find their identity and place in the world after suffering through a history of belittlement, injustice, and discrimination. It aimed to achieve this goal through the encouragement and demonstration of Black Power. Simultaneously, white men and women in the Whole Earth Network were excluding themselves most obviously to communes where they too sought to find their identities, in fear they would lose them.

Although both movements held very different (perhaps even opposing) reasons for their quests for identity, they shared the same common goal. They also excluded their respective groups from the rest of society not supporting them (or those not members of their respective in-groups) – for the BAM it was non-black America; for the Whole Earth Network it was practically white Americans not fitting the majority stereotype detailed earlier as well as individuals of other races, etc. While both movements may have had aspects that are seemingly liberal, open-minded, and welcoming, their actions proved to be quite the contrary. Both the Whole Earth Network – representative of the 1970s counterculture – and the BAM fell victim to the same illness that has driven problems throughout all of history – exclusion fever.


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