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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
Essay Sequence assignment. Discussion leaders will post their Keywords by February 11. Commentaries — Group 2 commentary — will be posted within a week after the class presentation on February 15.


Chapter 6:

1) Turner keeps showing us parallels with nature. On page 191 and 192 he talks about a rafting trip with GBN members, and how they all related things they learned to the “social and economic world”. Later, on page 197, Turner quotes Rothschild comparing the economic environment to a biological environment. Do you think these metaphors work? Do they blur the lines between nature are technology? Do you think the technological advances are as natural as biological nature? Maybe nature is just a version of technology, or vise versa? What about Kevin Kelly’s opinion that “the ability of computers to produce fractal shapes on their monitors served as evidence that fractural formations in the natural world had been produced by informational algorithms embedded in genes and DNA” (pg 203)? As technology starts to simulate life by using algorithms written on computers, is this just nature evolving further (pg 198)? You don’t have to answer any of these questions specifically if you don’t want to, but discuss the nature relationships.

Selected Responses:

Nature and Technology
Katie Collins
"For me, it is impossible to call technological advances as ‘natural’ as biological nature."

Jordan Davis
""Everything we know – everything we have discovered or invented – is essentially derived from nature…. But in the very beginning, it was natural phenomenon that was the basis for innovation."

What's Next?
Jordan Davis
"But I think trying to predict what sort of technology we’ll develop in the future gives a clearer picture of how we can’t predict what we will develop next."

Jared Putman
"There seems to exist a kind of techno-Darwinism tied up in all of this…. Just looking at my computer right now as I type this, I see how outdated it is even though it is only four years old. Technology is evolving so quickly I cannot even begin to predict what 'top of the line' will look like in ten years."

Megan Mercer
"The processes that occur in human evolution and within the human body help to inspire the people who improve technology."

Lorelle Stephanski
"While technology surely impacts how we live our lives and the habits we create, I don't think it could ever become the driving force of the subconscious act ions that take us from day to day."

Anne-Randolph Scott
"Our biology is not something that can be replaced by a computer. For example, a robot may have some very realistic characteristics of a human being, but the biology and creation are not the same and cannot be compared like they are."

Mike Yi
"I believe that technology moves forward because of nature’s influence. Early inventions that developed into modern technology were shaped by what we observed in nature."

Brandon Shipp
"…in my opinion it is a irrelevant comparison. It is an attempt to compare two things that are by definition completely different."

"Technology cannot create nature, though it can speed up natural processes, just as it speeds up our modern day lives. It complements nature, its older and more general parent."

People may not be forced to go outside and enjoy nature anymore, but perhaps that just makes it more enjoyable when the opportunity to spend time outside arises? I also think it is important to remember that "nature" had a very different role to play in the lives of American colonists. For them, the outdoors was something either feared or seen as a pool of resources for the taking. The want to preserve outdoor sites did not come about until the creation of the automobile and quicker travel times and the establishment of national and state parks. And I think people can still enjoy nature regardless of how much time they spend "roughing it" outdoors. There is a reason why most candles, lotions, and air fresheners are scented with some type of outdoorsy or flowery scent. The same goes for outdoor-landscape computer wallpapers and icons.
-Lindsey Sutphin

2) On page 204, in a review of Kevin Kelly’s book Out of Control, he is described as feeling that in the New Economy a company could exist where “everyone made their own business decisions”, “everyone has fun”, and “the enterprise doesn’t crash and burn”. This is made possible by “networked computers, mobile communications, and self managed teams.”And by also marrying “the competitive demands of business with the desire for personal satisfaction and democratic participation.” Do you think this is possible? Why or why not? Have you heard of a company who has done this or who has come close? How might this idea relate to social networks like facebook or twitter? Discuss…

Selected Responses:

Companies and Technology
Brittney Trimmer
The ideals work for social networking too: "It is designed for fun, hence why there are so many games and users. It cannot 'crash and burn' because users are invested and actively participate in control (i.e. privacy settings, accepting/denying friends, and what information they reveal).”

"[Google has] employee gyms, daycares, and you can your pet to work. Such little niceties, make the workplace more enjoyable."

"Despite its large size, Google promotes a small company field and encourages active participation of employees because they believe that innovation is key to their success. It is a Stewart Brand dream come true."

Meagan Watson
"By making employee satisfaction a matching priority and encouraging active participation, it stands to reason that company gains would increase through the increased productivity of its employees."

“…thinking practically about every employee making their own business decisions and teams managing themselves … I feel that while progress in these areas is definitely possible, achieving them to the extent expressed by Kelly may be slightly overreaching.

“Additionally, I believe it depends on the company’s area of specialization. For example, my work experience thus far has been mainly in government contracting and without the structure, management, and checks and balances these companies employ, their processes would fall apart and they would inevitably lose contracts

“With a company like Google or Facebook, though, more freedom is possible because of the nature of their business…”

Chapter 7:

3) Turner explains, "In 1998 Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron named Wired's particular blend of libertarian politics, countercultural aesthetics, and techno-utopian visions the 'Californian Ideology.'" Over the last 12 years since the "Californian Ideology" was coined and defined, significantly more people have the educational resources needed to be web developers and computer programmers. Freely discuss any of the following questions:

  • With this vast influx of computer professionals, all from various geographical and ideological backgrounds, has the development of Internet technologies stuck with this "Californian Ideology"?
  • Is the "Californian Ideology" still the "day-to-day orthodoxy of Silicon Valley and beyond," or has there been a shift in Internet ideals? What would the presiding ideology be called?
  • How has the "Californian Ideology" impacted the Web experience of the 2000s, and/or in what ways can we see that ideology diminishing?
  • Is there still a main physical location that impacts technology or its overall ideology, and is it still Silicon Valley?
  • Is the culture of web developers still influencing today's Internet ideology, or has the Internet become a culture of its own that influences real-life ideologies?

Talking Points:

4) According to Turner, Wired magazine not only served as an emblem of the "Californian Ideology," but also had a very real impact on the direction in which technological development was heading in the 1990s. Consider the Web as we know it today, and freely discuss any of the following questions:

  • How much did the content and design of Wired magazine, and those people affiliated with the publication, really impact today's Internet?
  • How would the Web be different today if Wired had never been published?
  • Could a newly-launched print magazine have the same effect today?
  • If a new magazine or e-zine launched in 2010, what would its "vision" for technology be, and how effective could it be? Or, if a group of people wanted to begin a new extension of the digital revolution, or a new kind of "revolution" entirely, how should they go about it?

Talking Points:


Responses:

In response to Question 1:
On page 192, Turner writes that “[f]or the GBN travelers [on the rafting trip], the local citizenry, like the landscape itself, was not so much a living entity in its own right as a text to be read for clues as to how GBNers ought to organize their lives in light of the various technological and social ‘systems’ within which they lived.” I do not think that this particular nature/technology metaphor is effective at all. It seems to me that the GBNers have so reduced their conceptions of their own technological creations that they actually believe them to be natural occurrences. For me, it is impossible to call technological advances as ‘natural’ as biological nature.

The social and economic worlds were both developed far after the establishment of the natural world, as ways to cushion living within it. As such, it seems to me that these people have been so ingrained with the interactions of their professional ‘social and economic world’ that they have somehow deluded themselves into believing that their creations might somehow rival those of the natural world, which their creations are simply a response to.

The Rothschild quote on page 197 (“In the economic environment, technological information…is the ultimate source of all economic life”) makes sense to me within its context, because of the evolution of the economic environment. Whereas there is nothing natural about “the ability of computers to produce fractal shapes on their monitors,” (203) because the computer monitor was contrived by man in effort to mimic the appearance of images in nature, I understand the interweaving conceptions of social, technological, informational, and natural networks that Kelly writes about. To me, the difference between the GBN travelers and Kelly’s New Communalist reflections lies in the origin of their consideration. The GBNers do not seem to consider that their notions of technological systems are based in the natural world, whereas Kelly understands the origins of each of these networks and sees the interconnectedness among them, due to the basic concept of evolution.
-Katie Collins


Response to Question 2:

The ideas presented by Kevin Kelly and supported by Stuart Brand are in and of themselves idealistic; however, they are ideals that many companies are striving for today. One such organization that comes to mind is Google.

Google creates a collaborative and fun atmosphere among employees, which explains why so many want to work for them. They have employee gyms, daycares, and you can your pet to work. Such little niceties, make the workplace more enjoyable. Despite its large size, Google promotes a small company field and encourages active participation of employees because they believe that innovation is key to their success. It is a Stewart Brand dream come true.

As far as social networking sites are concerned, the ideals work well also. This is because each individual on them is an entrepreneaur, their product being themselves. It is designed for fun, hence why there are so many games and users. It cannot "crash and burn" because users are invested and actively participate in control (i.e. privacy settings, accepting/denying friends, and what information they reveal).

- Brittney Trimmer


Response to Question 1:

Thinking of technology and nature as two separate entities seems like an excessive complication. Everything we know – everything we have discovered or invented – is essentially derived from nature. Nature is simply the lowest common denominator for all our technological advances. In the early days of technology, I think the connection between the two was a lot clearer; wheels would be made out of stone, sticks would be used to fuel fires, that sort of things. In the modern era, when a lot of our materials for creating technological devices are no longer naturally-occurring, the relationship becomes a lot less clear; don't expect to be able to go out and harvest some plastic off of a tree (unless of course it is a very literal plastic tree). Even if a component or the material of a component isn’t naturally occurring though, it’s still based on something we’ve taken from nature and manipulated. The human race hasn’t quite mastered the creation of matter, so all of our basic building blocks are things we find around us. As far as nature being the inspiration of science and technology, I don't mean humanity dug a hole and found super computers in it; things obviously progressed much more slowly than that. But in the very beginning, it was natural phenomenon that was the basis for innovation. Humans harnessed heat and warmth from wildfires, then used that knowledge to experiment and eventually gain some mastery over melting and forcing copper, then melting and mixing other things, then reactions caused by heat, and so on – all starting with first discovering the uses of fire. So obviously everything we have can be traced back to nature, though obviously the historic journey to where we are now is long and winding, and with very incremental advances in technology. Of course, looking back and being able to see only the major strides over very long periods of time, it seems to have been rapid. But I think trying to predict what sort of technology we’ll develop in the future gives a clearer picture of how we can’t predict what we will develop next.

- Jordan Davis


Response to Question 1:

It is an interesting idea to consider the advancement of technology as a kind of natural evolution. As society's needs change and expand so must the abilities of our machines. There seems to exist a kind of techno-Darwinism tied up in all of this. If a computer company's product is not constantly advancing and changing itself to better suit its environment, it will lose customers and die off. Also, larger, stronger companies can buy out and consume smaller, weaker companies. It really is survival of the fittest in the electronic jungle.

The consumer environment is in a constant state of metamorphosis and technology must keep up or die. However, this metamorphosis is happening at such a fast pace that it is mind-boggling. Just looking at my computer right now as I type this, I see how outdated it is even though it is only four years old. Technology is evolving so quickly I cannot even begin to predict what "top of the line" will look like in ten years. Whether it is a Star Trek or a Matrix style world we are heading to, no one knows, but it does seem we are naturally heading in that direction whether we like it or not.
-Jared Putman


Response to Question 2:

I feel I must begin by fully agreeing with the notion Brittney presented – the ideas expressed by Kelly and Brand are in and of themselves idealistic. That said, I also found her representation of Google to be a strong argument for their notion of what companies are capable of becoming. Conversely, thinking practically about every employee making their own business decisions and teams managing themselves (if the teams were truly to be self managed as opposed to simply being offered more decision-making power), I feel that while progress in these areas is definitely possible, achieving them to the extent expressed by Kelly may be slightly overreaching. Additionally, I believe it depends on the company’s area of specialization. For example, my work experience thus far has been mainly in government contracting and without the structure, management, and checks and balances these companies employ, their processes would fall apart and they would inevitable lose contracts (or “crash and burn,” if you will). With a company like Google or Facebook, though, more freedom is possible because of the nature of their business – innovation, creativity, and individual authority is arguably the very corner stone of business development for companies such as these.

In general, I believe that if realizing Kelly’s dream was possible, it would do a lot for business as a whole. By making employee satisfaction a matching priority and encouraging active participation, it stands to reason that company gains would increase through the increased productivity of its employees.

-Meagan Watson


In response to the issues presented in question 1 I believe that technology emulates nature when there isn’t an overdose of interaction. The reading from a few weeks ago from the Harvard Business Review by Ikujiro Nonako that explained the Theory of Automobile Evolution supports this. The processes that occur in human evolution and within the human body help to inspire the people who improve technology.

However, as the disconnect between nature (specifically the human mind) and technologies (google) becomes smaller and smaller, technology has more power to influence nature. In the August 2008 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, Nicholas Carr asks the question, is google making us stupid? One of his conclusions is that the more a person uses the web it results in increased difficulty staying focused on long pieces of writing. Technology arguably is changing the way people can naturally absorb information and analyze that information. The relationship between nature and technology is complicated.
Here’s a link to the article: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/google
-Megan Mercer


Response to Question 1:

This theme comes up quite frequently: the parallels between how we evolve naturally as humans and how technology could simulate this. Regardless of the impact that new technologies have on society, I don't believe computers could ever replicate the organic tendencies of human nature. There are instinctual and evolutionary patterns that are much too intricate to be calculated. While technology surely impacts how we live our lives and the habits we create, I don't think it could ever become the driving force of the subconscious actions that take us from day to day.

-Lorelle Stephanski


In response to question 1:

In today’s society especially, the line between a natural environment and a technology environment is running thin. We use technology in so many ways to better our lives. We rely on computers for knowledge and information to help us get ahead in school, work, and life in general. Technology has certainly come a long way, even just in the 20-something years we have been alive. And there is no doubt in my mind that technology will continue to progress in the years to come. However, I do not think that “the technological advances are as natural as biological nature.” Our biology is not something that can be replaced by a computer. For example, a robot may have some very realistic characteristics of a human being, but the biology and creation are not the same and cannot be compared like they are. But, at the same time, I think that we can thank technological advances for the opportunities it allows us. Especially in the medical world, certain technologies can help understand the biology of a human and even find cures to biological flaws.
- Anne-Randolph Scott


Response to question 1:
I might take this question in a different direction: I believe that technology moves forward because of nature’s influence. Early inventions that developed into modern technology were shaped by what we observed in nature. I doubt air flight would be what it is today if we never saw winged creatures moving about in the atmosphere. Today, we see people trying to develop things with human-like characteristics (i.e. robots, personalized or personified electronic technology, etc) People have yet to design a robot so human like that we wouldn’t be able to discern a difference.

Frankenstein, published in the 19th century, sparked a lot of interest in the connection between science and life. Could humans give life to a lifeless being? Much of today’s technology is based on figuring out the world we live in. Discoveries are constantly being made and we learn new things about things we thought were all figured out.

We also see lots of weapon technologies mimicking animal life. There are beetles that spray out chemicals out of glands as a defense mechanism. We even studied their exoskeletons to develop armor.

— Mike Yi

Comparing characteristics of nature to characteristics of technology is an interesting concept, but in my opinion it is a irrelevant comparison. It is an attempt to compare two things that are by definition completely different. Technology is defined as “a manner of accomplishing a task especially using technical processes, methods, or knowledge,” while nature is the inherent character or basic constitution of a person or animate object. Nature is not a version of technology, although one could argue that technology is a child of nature. Humans created what we consider technology as a method of solving problems and making life a little easier and more efficient.

I don’t think these metaphors are effective as they are looking to deep into an already complex relationship and further complicating it. Technology cannot create nature, though it can speed up natural processes, just as it speeds up our modern day lives. It complements nature, its older and more general parent.

-Brandon Shipp

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