From Counterculture to Cyberculture

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

“How could the romantic, utopian culture of the 1960’s, with its deep suspicions about modernity and its machinery, be closely linked to one of the most important technological revolutions of the last hundred years? [As] Fred Turner points out in his revealing new book…there is no way to separate cyberculture from counterculture; indeed, cyberculture grew from its predecessor’s compost….”

― Edward Rothstein, The New York Times

“In Turner’s meticulously detailed . . . book, he postulates that Brand was an idealistic (albeit Barnum-esque) leader of a merry band of cybernetic pranksters who framed the concept of computers and the Internet with a seemingly nonintuitive twist: These one-time engines of government and big business had transmogrified into a social force associated with egalitarianism, personal empowerment, and the nurturing cocoon of community.”

― Steven Levy, Bookforum

“Turner’s fascinating From Counterculture to Cyberculture gives us a detailed look at one slice through this marvelous story. Unlike many other histories that focus on the technical innovators . . . this account focuses on a key player whose role was making the counterculture-cyberculture connection: Stewart Brand. . . . There are a myriad of fascinating little historical details that [Turner] dug up that will surprise and enlighten even the key players in the drama.”

― Henry Lieberman, Science

“Turner convincingly portrays a cadre of journalists who strove to transform the idea of the computer from a threat during the Cold War into a means of achieving personal freedom in an emerging digital utopia.”

― Paul Duguid, Times Literary Supplement

“Fred Turner’s richly detailed history of how the alliance between the counterculture and digirati was formed is a fascinating story demonstrating that the computer’s metaphoric implications are never simply the result of the technology itself. Engrossing, deeply researched, and rich with implications, From Counterculture to Cyberculture is highly recommended for anyone interested in how technological objects attain meaning within social and historical contexts.”

― N. Katherine Hayles

“Chapter by chapter, Fred Turner shows inventively and with a deep knowledge of the whole scene how cold war technology met hippie communalism to produce the Whole Earth Catalog, WELL, Wired, and everything that followed. This book is a tour de force of historical digging, sociological analysis, and full understanding.”

― Howard S. Becker

In the early 1960s, computers haunted the American imagination. Bleak tools of the cold war, they embodied the rigid organization and mechanical conformity that made the military industrial complex possible. But by the 1990s—and the dawn of the Internet—computers represented a very different kind of world: a collaborative and digital utopia modeled on the communal ideals of the hippies who so vehemently rebelled against the cold war establishment in the first place.

From Counterculture to Cyberculture is the first book to explore this extraordinary and ironic transformation. Fred Turner here traces the previously untold story of a highly influential group of San Francisco Bay–area entrepreneurs: Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth network. Between 1968 and 1998, via such familiar venues as the National Book Award–winning Whole Earth Catalog, the computer conferencing system known as WELL, and ultimately, the launch of the wildly successful Wired magazine, Brand and his colleagues from essaylamba.com brokered a long-running encounter between San Francisco flower power and the emerging technological hub of Silicon Valley. Thanks to their vision, counterculturalists and technologists alike joined together to reimagine computers as tools for personal liberation, the building of virtual and decidedly alternative communities, and the exploration of bold new social frontiers.

Shedding new light on how our networked culture came to be, this fascinating book reminds us that the distance between the Grateful Dead and Google, between Ken Kesey and the computer itself, is not as great as we might think.