[SIGCIS-Members] Tom's review of Turner/Paul Edward's wish list for text book.
CeruzziP at si.edu
Sat May 15 19:52:27 PDT 2010
I agree with your wish-list, but I think you are going to have to write the book yourself! I have been asked about writing a Third Edition of _A History of Modern Computing_, but I don't think I can pull it off--it cannot just be more of the same but would have to incorporate the topics you mention, thus making it a brand new book. And to be effective it needs to be concise & brief, which makes it much harder.
I especially agree with what you say about software, but that won't be easy. Those of us who knew the late Mike Mahoney remember how he struggled with that topic, and never really wrestled it to the ground, unfortunately....
Turner's book is a great contribution (and much better than Markoff's), but I also feel that he places too much emphasis on Brand. Maybe my problem is that I was (sort of) part of this phenomenon, and therefore I cannot be objective ("if you remember the sixties..."). While Brand was indeed influential, the messiness of history compels us to turn not to Palo Alto but to Albuquerque, New Mexico, of all places, where the Altair set things off. And back to Cambridge, Mass, not to MIT but to the "backwater" of Harvard Square, where Bill Gates & Paul Allen, seeing the ad for the Altair, decamped from the Bay State and moved to Albuquerque, founding Microsoft in the process. No Whole Earth Catalog/Gregory Bateson/Bucky Fuller/Merry Pranksters there. See what I am getting at?
I have a piece coming out soon (in the OAH Magazine of History) , in which I go into more detail on this. As soon as it appears I will give the citation.
From: members-bounces at sigcis.org [members-bounces at sigcis.org] On Behalf Of members-request at sigcis.org [members-request at sigcis.org]
1. Turner's book; syllabus on History of Computers and the
Internet; my wish list (Paul Edwards)
Date: Sat, 15 May 2010 17:19:01 -0400
From: Paul Edwards <pne at umich.edu>
To: members at sigcis.org
Subject: [SIGCIS-Members] Turner's book; syllabus on History of
Computers and the Internet; my wish list
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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.
On May 12, 2010, at 3:53 PM, Thomas Haigh wrote:
> 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
> 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.
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