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The questions and responses in this forum refer to Chapters 6-7 (175-236) in Turner's From Counterculture to Cyberculture. For reference, the Dialogue Sequence assignment. Discussion leaders will post their commentaries — Team 2 commentary — within a week after the class presentation on September 22.

Questions from Chapter 6 of Turner's From Counterculture to Cyberculture.

1. Throughout chapter six and much of the book thus far, Turner states think tanks such as Stewart Brand emphasizing this idea of a non-hierarchical community. Do you agree or disagree that this new community system of sharing and managing knowledge allows for a non-hierarchy? Please explain your answer.

2. In reference to page 185, Turner concludes on an idea made by Willis Harman, the cofounder of the Institute for Advanced Study referring to this new economy and wave of thoughts. How do you feel about what is now an illegal drug, LSD, being the possible precursor to the whole cyber movement?

Questions from Chapter 7

3. On page 215, Turner quotes Thomas Frank, who believed most Americans by the end of the 1990s agreed that “‘Life is in fact a computer. Everything we do can be understood as part of a giant calculating machine. … the “New Economy,” the way of the microchip, is writ into the very DNA of existence.’” Do you think most Americans would still agree with this idea? Do you personally agree or disagree?

4. The writers of the “Magna Carta” wrote, “‘Cyberspace is the land of knowledge, and the exploration of that land can be a civilian’s truest, highest calling. The opportunity is now before us to empower every person to pursue that calling in his or her own way’” (229). Do you share this opinion, or has your experience with the Internet from a young age lessened its idealistic quality?

Alex Orchard-Hays
Response to Question 3

At the end of page 215, I believe it is Turner who states “more than a few Americans agreed” with the central idea behind Thomas Frank’s quote about life being a computer. Turner’s language suggests that this was an important idea among a great number of Americans, but was not necessarily in the awareness of the majority. Perhaps Americans were aware that government regulation was being replaced with a different means of controlling the market, but I do not think that it was immediately clear how controlling that new regulator was going to be. Today, I think we are much more aware of how deeply our existence and our machines are interconnected on a day-to-day level and in the economic, political and social spectrums. The idea behind Frank’s quote is a strong one among Americans today, but I think most would find the actual wording a bit extreme. I don’t think Americans are inclined to think of their lives and everything they do as “part of a giant calculating machine” because there is a great deal more to business, politics, society and everyday life than can be performed, experienced or influenced by machinery. But few would argue the tremendous role computer technology plays in American life. More so – and perhaps in a more abstract interpretation of Frank’s quote, Americans would agree – there is a state of mind attached to the use of computers that lends itself to strong comparisons with computers themselves.

This state of mind revolves around the notion of free exchange and efficient processing of information that computers enable. On the following page (216), Turner mentions briefly how this notion has remained consistent from the communes of the 1960s to WELL of the 1980s to Wired of the 1990s, suggesting that the state of mind is part of the developed culture, not part of the technology. Turner even states that “this rhetorical constellation emerged not simply alongside new communication technologies, nor exclusively among those who made and marketed those technologies, nor even in the 1990s” (216). The idea has been present for decades, and is now being facilitated with computer technology. As such, I disagree with Frank in our lives actually being computers, but I appreciate his point of view as indicative of our heavy reliance on computers as tools in facilitating our “New Economy.”

Kara Williams
Response to #3:

I somewhat disagree with Thomas Frank. If everything we did was a giant calculating machine then everyone’s experiences would result in the same outcome. However, we know that this simply is not true. All children will not feel the same and experience the same events after their parents get a divorce. These events are what I define the word “life” to mean and in these cases two times two, does not always equals four like it does in a “giant calculating machine.” Maybe by the end of the 1990s, with the Internet rapidly evolving and becoming more publicly present, it could have felt like the America, even the world, was going to be done away with “bureaucratic oversight of both the markets and politics” (215) and that the computer could just do all the calculations and spit out the answers to all our problems however, now twenty years later we know that not to be true. Thus, I do not think Americans would still agree with Frank’s view about life being a computer. However, his idea about the coming of the “New Economy” with Frank more so referencing the coming of the microchip, I do agree with that because humans natural evolve to greater ideas; we build our future on discoveries and inventions made in the past.

The first bit of Frank’s quote express views that are much too extreme for me. My attitude toward life is that humans remain the leading force behind it as they have in the past 2000 years and will continue to no matter what new technologies are invented by humans—individuals had the brains to think of computers (duh!) so how then could Frank believe that everything we do is a part of such a dehumanize object as a “machine.” No matter how many machines and computers we humans create and invent we will always have feelings and senses that computers themselves cannot comprehend unless we design them too (if ever). So thus, I don’t think most American would now agree with this idea of life as a computer but perhaps they could agree how it was only inevitable that existence (i.e. intellectual human beings) would create such a ‘New Economy.’

Courtney Carlson

I agree with the idea that the community system of sharing and managing knowledge allows for a non-hierarchy. These “think-tanks”, such as Steward Brand, allow for participants to communicate and collaborate, which often yields an end product, if you will, of higher quality. According to turner, the six semiannual learning conferences “did not ‘work’ in the sense of creating any tangible product,” recalled Schwartz. “Rather, they led to understandings and collaborations, for both the corporate clients and the participants.” In the context of the conferences themselves, these collaborations first emerged alongside a systems-oriented contact language,” (Turner 182).

The collaborations at the learning conferences allowed for the production of a variety of new ideas and information. The structure of these conferences also became the basis of the Global Business Network (GBN), which would later “become both a model and a source of symbolic and rhetorical resources for corporate executives and government officials looking to understand post-Fordist forms of economic activity,” (Turner 184).
The efficiency and effectiveness of these learning conferences and think tanks is certainly unparalleled. The way I see it, no hierarchy is formed, as the majority of these think tanks are comprised of people from all different backgrounds, on all different levels. Their knowledge is shared on an open forum, where all members are free to express their opinion. According to Turner, “When the founders sought network members, Brand recalled, they looked for “people we knew and liked and respected” who could “inform and titillate.” On the one hand, much like the New Communalists, Brand and the founders hoped to found a non-hierarchical, collaborative alternative to mainstream firms and toward network entrepreneurship as an organizing force (189).

The Global Business Network (GBN) also functioned under similar standards allowing people of all backgrounds—ecologists, biologists, anthropologists, and journalists—to collaborate. All of these groups of people clearly had differing opinions, but were welcomed to share these opinions on various forums where their corporate clients could interact.

Although some people might think, in their own mind, that they are above the others in the group, I believe that these think tanks do not breed hierarchy. They were designed to create an open forum for people of all disciplines, and I certainly think they were effective in doing so.

Caitlin Laverdiere
Response to Question 2

Turner attributes Willis Harman with the “conviction that the psychological and social barriers of the white-collar, corporate world needed to be broken down so that executives and engineers might have insight not only into their own minds, but into the true nature of the world around them” (185). While the psychedelic scene, and LSD in particular, had been an outlet to break free from the hierarchical social barriers of corporate America, I think “the sheer, pragmatic, exalting usefulness of system-centered, holistic faith,” (185) as described by Art Kleiner and the SRI, were more akin to the dynamics of community, interpersonal and interdisciplinary networking, and a communal search for consciousness outside mainstream corporate America that led to the burgeoning cyber movement, than to the actual “consciousness” that people attributed to their trips on LSD.

I have a very hard time accepting LSD as a critical precursor to the cyber movement. Turner presents an interesting argument for its position as a foundational element in the future of cyber technology and digital communities; however, I think the post WWII emphasis on collaborative interdisciplinary research and the rise of military-industrial-academic technology were the real forces behind the rise in computer technology and digital communication. Turner states that, “In venues like the Trips Festival, the hippies of Haight-Ashbury sought to demonstrate the ability of technologies such as LSD, stereos, and stroboscopic lights to amplify human consciousness. The communes of the Southwest… [illustrated] the powers of…new forms of cohabitation to model a new society” (178-179). The interpersonal relationships behind these social movements – the collaboration that inspired the rise of these new technologies – and the drive to reach beyond the hierarchical mainstream were the real forces behind these social movements that paved the way for digital networking in the “new economy,” not the drugs themselves. I think the importance of networking, utilizing small-scale technologies, and creating “new forms of cohabitation” and ways of relating to the world paved the way for technology based social change.

Sarah Tavernaris
Question 2

I do not think the use of LSD in the 60s directly led to the cyber movement. However, I do believe the cult of psychology surrounding the use of LSD in the 60s is highly comparable to the psychology of early computer and web use. Counterculturalists using LSD in the 60s had a strict unspoken code for experimenting: it was a “new thing” that led you out of the darkness of the Cold War and the Red Scare and the bland land of “everyone over 30,” and to really experience it, you had to let go of control, inhibition, and fear in order to travel into the unknown. It led users into places of higher consciousness in which they could see the world with a clearer eye (the Third Eye!)—here was a place where they could tear down the walls and barriers of a bound world. Within this higher consciousness, where counterculturalists found common ground with others who where “on the bus” and “understood,” they began to connect with one another and proclaimed the world made more sense to them, and they lived in harmony (communal living, free space to share, free everything, etc). Why? They had broken into a higher consciousness using new tools in order to influence the working and perception of the world and systems—LSD was a huge step apart from the straight-laced world of the 40s and 50s so many counterculturalists had come to fear and despise. Using LSD allowed people to break free and individualize.

At the same time LSD use spikes, early computer experimentation had also begun, although it developed directly out of the post-war American military-industrial complex. Still, the computer was an innovative new technology, a tool, another step apart from the placid world of post-war America. While the use of LSD in the 60s did not directly lead to the cyber movement, counterculturalist ideas were attached to it. Early developers dreamed of a new, free, open space where people could share ideas and information, a place without the demand for strict hierarchical structure. It was a step apart from the ills of the nation, and like LSD was changing the consciousness of the youth, the computer had the potential to change to consciousness of the world and how it shared information.

The ideas surrounding these two movements is most important—I don’t believe one directly influenced the other. Countercultural ideals influenced the construction of the computer and internet system, as systems that had the potential to eliminate hierarchy, increase individualism and person-to-person contact, and change the way people think about the world. LSD certainly has done that—the US saw an entire generation paint their bodies, groove to psychedelic rock, wear flowers in their hair, sleep on the ground in teepees, all for the sake of interpersonal and universal harmony, valuing the individual and shunning the distinct, gray adult world of their parents. Today, the internet and personal computer are probably the most popular things in the world. Everything is available, generally for free, online—it’s a communal space where everyone is connected, there is no social or political hierarchical structure, and it changes the way we think about the world. Still, as we are more and more plugged into this virtual world, do we lose our hold on the real world? Only time will tell. A word to the wise, though—too much LSD may induce the paranoia that the user is an orange and everyone wants to peel him. I guess we’ll see if the same holds true for Internet use.

Megan Quigley
Question 3

I think most Americans would agree, to some extent, with Frank’s belief in the 1990s that “Life is in fact a computer…writ into the very DNA of existence.” Although I believe this statement has its restrictions as to what Frank encompasses in the term “life,” the general idea of the computers extreme impact on our everyday life is undeniable. As the use of personal computers was on the rise at the time, Frank correctly predicted its everlasting impact on American life, whether deemed positive or negative. I don’t believe that “life” is as mechanical and strictly operated as a computer as Frank might be suggesting, but life is affected in almost every aspect by the computer. This suggestion is supported by the idea that most people cannot seem to “unplug” from computers and other technologies for a significant period of time, say three days. Everyday life is revolved around the computer: online banking, online classes, webinars, emails, digital photos (who regularly prints those anymore?), online applications, digital newspapers and magazines, and so on. Businesses and the economy have forever been changed by the computer and cannot exist without it in Turner’s predicted “New Economy.” I also agree with Turner’s statements on the “ubiquitous computer and communication networks” transforming America and the business cycle and shifting the economic landscape (215). Not only did the computer growth from 1993-2000 bring about “a rapid growth in manufacturing output, investment, and worker productivity,” but it also decreased inflation and unemployment. Business was changed and the microchip became a critical element of life. As these technologies continued to grow, communication also became less personable. It is no longer necessary for some employees to be present in the office to perform their job or a student to sit in class to learn and understand. And, even when they are present, they are usually enthralled in some sort of technology, whether it is through the usage of a Smart Boards or laptop.

I agree with an earlier post commenting on other aspects of “life,” like our emotional experiences, and its limited connection to the computer. However, even this realm of our lives is impacted by the technology. The earlier post commented on how not all children will experience a parents’ divorce the same and the “giant calculating machine” cannot spit out the correct resolution for them. However, during this experience children might use the computer as a resource to look for advice online, connect with friends and family whom they would otherwise not be able to contact as easily, or even as a distraction or isolation tool for such an emotional event. Another emotional aspect of life is our personal relationships with people. With social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn, how do we define “friends” in this new realm? And what about dating? Many people judge others strictly on what they see exposed online, whether true or false. However, sites like Facebook are not all bad because they do provide a great opportunity to network with others and expand business communications. So forget trading business cards or phone numbers, just send me an email or request to be my friend on Facebook. So, although our emotions could be viewed as a separate entity than other aspects life like business and social, they are still all greatly influenced by the computer.

Kaitlin Cannavo
Question 3

I think Americans today would agree with Thomas Frank’s quote, especially now more than ever. Whether one is socially and morally opposed to the internet or not, it is impossible to survive in today’s society without this “microchip” instilled into your genes. Even though society has found numerous faults in attempting to force technology to take control of our economic and social welfare, we continue to shove new efforts down the consumer’s throats to do just that. This “New Economy” will not give up until life is a computer, stripping us of emotional involvement in the physical world and leaving us with our online identity readily accessible and available to anyone interested in our “lives”. Just since the 1990’s when Frank stated this quote, it has become even more real and relevant as the personal computer slowly takes over our sense of meaning and value in the term life. We reduce ourselves to our online identity so often that the majority of our daily interactions involve merely a username and password. Very few people know us as a person; our personality, our values, our sense of self.

Society is slowly losing the concept of life as being what it is, living. We are too preoccupied with trying to make computers do all the work for us that we lose touch with ourselves and with each other. While the counterculturalist’s ideal view of cyberspace as a liberator may have held true for the beginnings of the internet, this obsession with technology has metamorphosed into more a form of oppression. There are no choices anymore- it’s technology’s way or no way. Counterculturalists viewed the internet as their new form of the now illegal drug LSD, transposing their consciousness into a utopian, vindicated state away from the social restraints of the post-war military-industrial complex. But today, our hierarchal society has taken control of the world-wide web and instead of acting as an emotional outlet, the internet is yet another disciplined bureaucrat. Students are forced to have laptops for school, workers are given company computers, businesses market and sell on the web, and that’s only the beginning. We have to monitor how we expose ourselves online for fear prospective employers or parents or boyfriends will find out things about us we don’t want them to know. Children get cell phones and laptops at the age of 11, and there goes most family involvement in the child’s life. Technology now controls the child and technology is all the child knows as friend and means of escape. Today’s society is technology and without it you will not survive. Technology now governs our lives. Life as life is slowly fading; life is a computer.

Nichole Uiterwijk
Response to Question 3

I believe most Americans would agree with this statement but in slightly different terms than the ones Frank stated, connecting life to a computer for its efficiency and effectiveness rather than for Frank’s labeled vision “market populism.” Americans are finding new ways via innovation and technology to become more efficient in their daily routines and ventures, trying to strip down to the basics: the “instructions/coding for life” (DNA). Money is being poured into knowledge management for this very reason, and thus a good portion of American lives are spent being managed in personal and business aspects, from Facebook to work. Instead of the decentralized control of government and a deregulated internet that allows for markets to become engines for social and political change, businesses are taking up the slack and regulating their workers in terms of knowledge and actions at work. The economic market, the New Economy, has further transformed past a haven of freedom into another portal to manage you and your knowledge, even tacit knowledge. It is at a point where most Americans do not realize that every click is being monitored in one form or another—for marketing strategy, for example. Life is becoming more efficient like computers in that technology is stripping information and knowledge down to its most basic level in order to achieve that efficiency. Every action, keystroke, we make is gathered by someone somewhere who uses the information to further their own purpose, which connects to the larger picture of American business, which connects to the larger idea of capitalism and human existence.

In another take of Frank’s quote, the microchip being writ into the very DNA of existence could be taken more literally. Computers have become so involved in both personal and business routines that it might be literally impossible to remove them from our lives completely. The social pressure of being constantly connected and within reach is embedded into American business, and businesses are willing to pay for it. I personally cannot even want to disconnect from the Internet. I find comfort in the connectivity, and thus I agree that the way of the microchip is a part of the most basic existence: my DNA.

Jenny Milne
Question 1

I feel that ideally, there would be no hierarchy online, because of the fact that it can be anonymous. The fact that they recognize that higher quality products result from the "think tank" collaboration is proof that it is a non-hierachal system. However, I think each case of this web system must be taken into consideration. Overall, using the web for information and working together, there is no hierarchy, however, community sites, such as facebook and myspace, definitely have a hierarchy.

To me, facebook and myspace would be the most important internet system to not have a "class status", however because of its set up, it does. Who has the most friends, who looks the best in their pictures, who has the most wall posts, who has the best looking significant other are all factors that create this idea of who has a better facebook page, and in turn, who is a better person. Facebook has a created a community where you boast about who you are, it is very far from anonymous. However, you can create an anonymous persona, but who would be friends with your anonymous creation? This community is elitist, you want to be seen with numerous posts on your wall, you want to have the best quotes, the most interesting interests. Myspace is similar, but has become outdated (in my opinion).

I don't think this is what Brand meant by managing knowledge, probably most often, sites like wikipedia, would be what he was thinking of. That is a place to manage knowlege in a non-hierarchal society, it isn't social, it is just about information. I think that is the only place that there would not be a class structure. Purely informational sites, where you can share and add knowledge, would not have a hierarchy. Any sites, such as blogs, where personal opinion and information are included, would have a hierarchy. It's just human nature.

Jessica Razumich
Question 2

Even though Harman believed that “the psychological and social barriers of the white-collar, corporate world needed to be broken down so that executives and engineers might have insight not only into their own minds, but into the true nature of the world around them”(185), I believe that it is possible that LSD played a key role the cyber movement. There were many people in the computer movement who experimented with LSD, such as Timothy Leary. Leary envisioned a cybernetic society. A society that would use computer networks to transcend geographic boundaries forming a "global village". Psychedelics and computers are important components concerning humanity’s development towards the state of total freedom (Transformational Society). Leary praised LSD as the "sacrament" and the key to altering human consciousness, which could help society to increase creativity, intelligence, philosophical insight, and speed up humanity's evolution. Leary felt that the term cybernetics postulated that all hierarchical structures would be dissolved and that the original meaning of "cyber" would become one important premise for the cybersociety (Transformational Society). Even though most of his thoughts were due to his psychedelic experience, I find myself in agreement with Leary, that computer networks form a global village and that hierarchical structures could be dissolved. Even though LSD is illegal, it does not change the fact that it still contributed partly to the cyber movement. Personally, I do not support the use of LSD, but I cannot change what has happened or come out of the past use of it. Let me pose this question, if LSD had not been used in the past, would cyber movement have encompassed the same concepts and ideas today? We can’t answer that for sure, but I think that it was a tool that was used to develop future concepts. Also, Leary’s concept can be seen on page 185 when Turner states that “…business as a site of social change and a habit of working in an informal, networked way.”

"Transformational Society." Manhard Schlifni,
30 Apr. 2005. Web. 21 Sept. 2009. <>.

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