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The WELL

// Posted by on 05/21/2015 (6:58 PM)

Get into The WELL

According to Turner, this computer network, using the Whole Earth Catalog as its model, was created in 1985 by Stewart Brand and Larry Brilliant. Brilliant was looking for a ready-made user community.  Brand, who envisioned… Read more

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Get into The WELL

According to Turner, this computer network, using the Whole Earth Catalog as its model, was created in 1985 by Stewart Brand and Larry Brilliant. Brilliant was looking for a ready-made user community.  Brand, who envisioned putting some of the Whole Earth Catalog online allowing viewers to be create, brought together counter culturists, hackers (that according to our lecture did not have negative connotations), and journalists.  This group had been shaped by Communalist and cybernetic ideas (Turner P. 2102).  At first, the users were made up of technologist, staff writers, editor from established magazines and numerous freelance writers.  This caused multiple communities to come together as the Whole Earth Catalog had previously done.

The virtual bulletin board system (BBS) community had several design goals according to Kevin Kelly which included Free or as cheap as it could be, it should be profitable, self-governing, self-designing in that it would co-evolve, it would be a community, and Business user would fund it.  User contributions would be marketed back to the user.  It was a new medium to deliver information.  Turner explains that the WELL became not simply a computer conferencing system but a way to recreate the countercultural ideal of a shared consciousness in a new virtual world” (Turner P. 2102).  It was grouped into the following categories- Arts and Letters and Entertainment, and its themes were books, cooking, computing and the Grateful Dead (Turner P.2138).  Turner explains that this techno centric form of management brought a New Communalist preference for nonhierarchical forms of social organization with a cybernetic vision of control.

Its members could dial up and communicate with each other either asynchronous or real-time. Public and private communication co-existed and it has been referred to as a ‘hang-out’.   This network contained the “privileges of membership, and its governance were a set of ideals, management strategies, and interpersonal networks first formulated in and around the Whole Earth Catalog” (Turner P. 2102).  In other words, it is a virtual community that is open to almost anyone and requires a paid membership. For the service, users were charged an eight dollar subscription fee and two dollars per hour to log in.  Why was The WELL so popular?   According the Wikipedia, you know who you’re talking too because The WELL is non-anonymous. You held quality conversation with smart people engaging in a wide range of topics. There is no data-mining. There is no advertising. No pop-ups?  It’s a real community. One member recently called it, “A small town all over the world.” “The most influential online community in the world.” — WIRED Magazine.

Instead of capitalism being so contained The Well allowed for open communication and many contributed to its success.  Many also benefited.  As times changed so did the material posted.  It was a place where humans and technology lived in harmony.  It was a place where communal living was carried over and existed online. 

Fred Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism

                (2006) University of Chicago Press ISBN 0-226-81741-5

The WELL. (2015, March 21). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 21:55, May 21, 2015, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_WELL&oldid=652907006

 

Interesting pics:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_community#/media/File:Ad-tech_London_2010_(5).JPG


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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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