As we examine the history of the world, it is easy to see how societies have always gravitated towards toward structure and hierarchy. Governments and institutions are normal facets of society that hold influence and power to shape outcomes. The introduction of computers, and particularly the internet, however, has shifted this structure. However, while some would claim that the counterculture ideals have succeeded in the development of the internet, these are simply new ways of doing the same things.
Turner outlines how the development of computers was intertwined and constructed using countercultural ideals in chapter 4 of his book “From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism.” Turner explains how the values of the counterculture were information sharing, individual empowerment, and collective growth, and that computers were capturing a sense of “personal.” Through a series of complex and not always successful endeavors, Stewart Brand played a key role in bringing the two communities of computer engineering and the counterculture together. Although many of the countercultural ideas ended up in failure and dissolution, these ideas were captured in the advancement of computer technologies. Communities of hackers and computer engineers were forming with these countercultural ideals at their core.
Returning to the present, Shirky examines the current internet and how it organizes people without the institutional organization. In chapters 1, 3, and 4 of his book “Here Comes Everybody,” he essentially discusses how the internet has provided us with new tools to organize into groups, which has affected our societal structure in a number of ways. At the core of this discussion is the way in which people are able to organize easily and cheaply, without the normal institutional structures that were needed in the past. The internet has thus redefined the roles of the average person and empowered them individually.
Where Turner and Shirky collide is at the countercultural ideals that have been realized through the internet. Information sharing, individual empowerment, and collective growth are clearly present in the online community. However, where these things are often attributed to the internet as new and finally realized, Shirky does a good job at explaining that the internet is a new tool for the same processes. The radio has been used to organize people outside of institutional structures, just as the fax machine and printing press have done. The internet does manage to once again take these counterculture ideas and improve them, make them easier to access and achieve, but it is not the first to reach for these things. The internet and computers are new tools for working on the same goals.
My Question: Is history forgotten when discussing the achievements and possibilities of the internet?