[SIGCIS-Members] Turner's book; syllabus on History of Computers and the Internet; my wish list

Paul Edwards pne at umich.edu
Sat May 15 14:19:01 PDT 2010

Tom's excellent review of Fred Turner's book reminds me that I promised to report back to this list on development of my History of Computers and the Internet syllabus. It's available at http://pne.people.si.umich.edu/PDF/379syll.pdf, or on the SIGCIS web page.

In addition to numerous articles, I used four books:

Campbell-Kelly and Aspray, Computer (general history of computers)
Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture
Campbell-Kelly, From Airline Reservations to Sonic the Hedgehog (history of the software industry)
Abbate, Inventing the Internet

Of these, I think I will remove the Campbell-Kelly book — it's a bit too business-history oriented for undergrads (sorry Martin!)

I agree entirely with Tom's assessment of Turner's book as among the best in the field. While I wouldn't use it in place of a general-history book like Computer, it does work well as a supplement, and it gave me a chance to lecture on American culture decade by decade. Today's undergrad students really don't know much about the pre-Internet era, or even about events before around 2000, so unless they're history majors it's important to throw in some context. 

My wish list for future textbook-y work in this field -  we really need....

-  a new general history (or a new edition of Computer) that puts more emphasis on the European and Japanese stories

-  a book on the history of computer games that blends serious (i.e. non-lionizing) business history with the cultural side of gaming, including serious review of the psychology of gaming (including impacts on behavior). The ideal book would also cover the military-gaming links in detail.

- a history of software structured not around the development of software firms, but around the development of software functionality and the impacts of software on business and society. Such a thing might need to be web-based, with emulators, etc.

- a real history of the web

These items all call for teams rather than individuals to write them. 

- Paul

On May 12, 2010, at 3:53 PM, Thomas Haigh wrote:

> Hello,
> Julie's contribution reminds me that Isis has just recently published my
> review of Fred Turner’s book. This is the text I sent (the original was a
> bit longer) but I thought I should wait for it to be published before
> sharing it with the list. 
> While I'm here: the guy who reviewed Lars Heide's book seemed rather grumpy!
> Or rather he didn't have any interest in the use and development of punched
> card technology except in as much as it might have had a major social
> impact. So let me add that it is well worth reading and is by far the
> broadest and deepest account so far published of the evolution of punched
> card machine applications over a range of countries and industries. In
> exploring the shaping of technology by users it is an excellent complement
> to JoAnne Yates' work on punched card use in the insurance industry.
> If you come across other reviews of interest to readers on the list please
> feel free to link or forward to our list.
> Tom
> Review of From Counterculture to Cyberculture
> Thomas Haigh, University of Wisconsin--Milwaukee
> Preprint text -- Published version March 2010 in Isis.
> Turner’s book is one of the best every written on the history of information
> technology. It centers on the unlikely career of Stewart Brand, who happily
> for this purpose personifies the Bay Area’s paradoxical success as America’s
> central hub for counter-cultural politics, new age fads, and high technology
> entrepreneurship. Having arrived to study biology at Stanford University
> Brand soon immersed himself in the emerging countercultural scene. He took
> acid, hung out with the Merry Pranksters, and organized the multimedia Trips
> Festivals. In 1968 he started a business to serve the area’s burgeoning
> population of rural communes. It published the Whole Earth Catalog, which
> Turner calls a “smorgasbord of books, mechanical devices, and outdoor
> recreational gear” showcasing items from birch cribs to electronic
> calculators. Its title reflected Brand’s 1966 campaign to have NASA release
> a picture of the Earth from space, something he presciently believed would
> act as a powerful symbol of the world’s fragility and interdependence. The
> catalog’s eccentric scope and deliberate juxtapositions made it a powerful
> exemplar of the holistic mindset it promoted. Brand’s slogans of “access to
> tools” and “whole systems” promised to supply individuals and local
> communities with the technologies (literal and intellectual) needed to
> defend themselves against the deadening conformity of government and big
> business. 
> Journalistic accounts of the origins of personal computing, most recently
> John Markoff’s disjointed What the Doormouse Said, have celebrated
> connections between computer enthusiasts and the counterculture without
> really getting to grips with their substance or asking what the
> counterculture actually was. Turner argues powerfully for the need to
> separate the political activism of the New Left from the libertarian
> lifestyle tinkering of what he calls the New Communalists. More
> provocatively he suggests that the devotion of Brand and his followers to
> cybernetics, systems thinking, interdisciplinary collaboration, and ad-hoc
> non-hierarchical forms of organization did not, as they believed, set them
> aside from the military-industrial-academic complex of the Cold War.
> Instead, drawing primarily on characterizations of the MIT Radiation Lab
> made by Peter Galison and David Mindell, he insists that these values united
> the counter culture with the elites of the Cold War research world. This
> argument implies that the book’s title might more accurately be reversed to
> read “From Cyberculture to Counterculture.” 
> The Whole Earth Catalog ceased publication in 1972, though Brand mined
> similar territory with successor publications such as CoEvolution Quarterly
> into the 1980s. As the commune movement fizzled Brand developed a growing
> interest in computer technology. A failed publication of the 1980s, The
> Whole Earth Software Catalog, merged his countercultural networks with the
> world of personal computer enthusiasts. This produced the WELL (Whole Earth
> ‘Lectronic Link), an extremely influential online conferencing system marked
> by its sense of community and wide-ranging discussions of politics, culture,
> and technology. It was the WELL that inspired Howard Rheingold to devise the
> concept of “virtual community.” Brand’s cohort spearheaded what Turner calls
> a reversal of the “political valance” of computers from remote, impersonal
> things used by agents of government and big business to intimate devices
> able to knit communities together and unleash personal potential.
> Brand’s personal networks extended ever further into the worlds of business
> and computing research. He formed an alliance with Nicholas Negroponte,
> founder of MIT’s influential Media Lab. Brand’s popular book Inventing the
> Future celebrated the lab’s potential to reconnect individuals and rebuilt
> communities via computer systems. Brand founded another business, the Global
> Business Network, to bring executives to a series of seminars and retreats.
> In 1990 Brand helped charter the Electronic Frontier Foundation to keep
> “cyberspace” free of government regulation.  Many of Brand’s associates
> became investors in, editors of, or contributors to Wired magazine. It was
> both a mascot and an early driver of the high-tech bubble of the 1990s.
> Embracing networks and computer technologies as both personally empowering
> and socially transformative, Wired promoted Brand’s friends (dubbed the
> “digerati”) as visionaries and advanced a libertarian political agenda. 
> Like Brand, Wired claimed descent from the counterculture of the 1960s while
> supporting Newt Gingrich whose idiosyncratic blueprint for a “Republican
> revolution” mixed social conservatism with a rhetoric of decentralization,
> entrepreneurship, and technological transformation. 
> Turner writes clearly and concisely, organizing his sprawling story into a
> well crafted narrative around the twists and turns of Brand’s career. He
> nimbly summarizes the many relevant contexts and secondary literatures
> needed to address topics from the New Left to cybernetics to the founding of
> Wired magazine. He uses archival sources and access to the participants,
> including Brand’s personal diaries, to offer a seemingly authoritative
> telling of these stories. Some of these incidents are already familiar from
> journalistic accounts. Others are less well known. I was particularly
> interested in the explanation of exactly how “cyberspace” moved from its
> origins in the 1980s as a science fiction phrase to describe a deeply
> immersive virtual world to its vogue in the 1990s to describe text-based
> computer communication. 
> The book’s primary value comes from integrating all these episodes into a
> single story. This exposes the surprising consistence of Brand’s philosophy
> and method of operation. For example, Turner discovers commonalities between
> the organization of the Whole Earth Catalog and the later WELL network. The
> Whole Earth Catalog, cast here as “an information technology,” included
> heated discussion from readers and projected itself as the focal point of an
> intellectually diverse community. Brand retained his quasi-mystical faith in
> utopian transformation and the power of technologies and ideas to empower
> individuals. He worked by making himself the focal point of a broad network,
> using the rhetoric of systems theory as what Turner, following Galison,
> calls a “contact language” for symbolic trading between disparate
> intellectual communities. We also see parallels between Brand’s own career
> and the vision he espoused of a world of skilled free agents growing rich
> through networks and the exchange of information.
> Turner resists the urge to editorialize but is unafraid to subject Brand to
> historical scrutiny, finding historical voices to note that his networks and
> communities were made up almost exclusively of young white men and that his
> ostensibly apolitical stance ignored the realities of social class. However
> it remains unclear whether Turner believes that the language of systems and
> cybernetics Brand and his counterparts appropriated represented a
> substantive transfer of concepts and methods from the Cold War elite or just
> a fashionable vocabulary on which to draw. 
> This book makes an important contribution to historicizing the controversies
> of the 1960s and 1970s and demonstrating to historians the centrality of
> insights from the history of science and technology in studying the cultural
> history of these turbulent decades.
> From: members-bounces at sigcis.org [mailto:members-bounces at sigcis.org] On
> Behalf Of julie hugsted
> Sent: Wednesday, May 12, 2010 8:06 AM
> To: members at sigcis.org
> Subject: [SIGCIS-Members] Fwd: H-Net Review Publication: 'The Evolution of
> Punched-Card Systems'
> Hello,
> For those of you that are not on the H-SCI-MED-TECH mailing list and have
> not seen this announcement, it might have interest
> Best
> Julie
> _______________________________________________
> This email is relayed from members at sigcis.org, the email discussion list of SHOT SIGCIS. The list archives are at http://sigcis.org/pipermail/members/ and you can change your subscription options at http://sigcis.org/mailman/listinfo/members

Paul N. Edwards, Assoc. Professor of Information
A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming (MIT Press 2010)

School of Information
3078 West Hall
University of Michigan
1085 South University Ave.
Ann Arbor, MI  48109-1107
(734) 764-2617 (office)                  
(206) 337-1523  (fax) 

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.sigcis.org/pipermail/members-sigcis.org/attachments/20100515/889d1dee/attachment-0001.htm>

More information about the Members mailing list