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Author: IPE


“At the height of the Cold War, the US military funded the creation of the only working model of communism in human history. It’s called the Internet.” – Richard Barbrook, The Legacy of McLuhan, Fordham University, New York (1998).

1998 Wall Street dotcom bubble: new economy stocks = 225% price rise v. old economy stocks = 17% price rise. Hi-tech neo-liberalism: the New Paradigm, the Long Boom and friction free capitalism. Cyber-entrepreneur: nerd teenager -> good idea -> office in garage -> venture capital funding -> first mover advantage -> media hype -> IPO (Initial Placement Offering) -> wealth and fame. The American dream: Amazon and Yahoo -> e-Bay and MySpace -> YouTube and Facebook.

Kevin Kelly, New Rules for the New Economy (1998).
Peter Leyden, Peter Schwartz and Joel Hyatt, The Long Boom (2000).
Jehane Noujaim (director), (2001).

Norbert Wiener: 1930s MIT mathematician -> 1941-5 anti-Nazi weapons researcher -> 1946 Macy Conferences guru -> 1948 best selling author -> 1950s Cold War dissident -> 1960 guest star in Moscow. Cybernetics as meta-theory of biological and mechanical systems: feedback, information and anti-entropy. Cybernetics without Wiener: Johnny von Neumann and the cult of artificial intelligence. IBM (International Business Machines) = computer corporation of the military-industrial complex. The war machine: 1952 Defence Calculator -> 1958 SAGE command & control system. The office machine: 1930s analogue tabulators -> 1964 System/360 mainframes and peripherals. IBM pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair: technology of genocide and domination sold as Robby the Robot.

Norbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings (1950).
Fred Wilcox (director), Forbidden Planet (1956).

Cybernetics in the service of communism: Wiener from zero to hero in Russia. The despotic limits of the Stalinist model = ideological rigidity, inflexible planning and party autocracy. The libertarian legacy of the 1917 Revolution: Marxism, workers’ self-management and Soviet democracy. Axel Berg, Oskar Lange and the cybernetic communist movement: intellectual freedom -> economic efficiency -> participatory politics. Moscow computer network v. US nuke attack -> Unified Information Network = terminals in every factory, office and classroom. 1961 Nikita Khrushchev at 22nd CPSU Congress predicted Russians building cybernetic communism within a decade. 1968 Prague Spring: industrialism = Stalinist totalitarianism -> post-industrialism = socialism with a human face. Totalitarian Communism v. cybernetic communism: 1964 Khrushchev overthrown -> 1968 Russian army invaded Czechoslovakia.

“Where is the leading role of the Communist Party in your cybernetic machine?”

Radovan Richta, Civilisation at the Crossroads: social and human implications of the scientific and technological revolution (1968).
Slava Gerovitch, From Newspeak to Cyberspeak (2002).

1957 Sputnik = 1st satellite in space -> 1961 Yuri Gagarin = 1st human in space. The Red Moon = Russian propaganda triumph in Cold War -> 1958 ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency) = US hi-tech champion -> John F. Ford and CIA warning of ‘cybernetics gap’: Unified Information Network = 2nd Sputnik -> 1962 J.C.R. Licklider @ ARPA funding Net research -> 1969 ARPANET went live. Official rationale: Net = time-sharing computers between research laboratories and communications system for fighting nuclear wars. Hindsight scepticism: scientists don’t like sharing computers and cheap switches are more reliable than expensive mainframes.

Paul Baran, On Distributed Communications (1964).
J.C.R. Licklider, The Computer as a Communications Device (1968).
Janet Abbate, Inventing the Internet (2000).

1964 Bell Commission: multi-disciplinary research to devise the American version of the Net utopia. Cold War struggle over the imaginary future: owning time = controlling space. Marshall McLuhan as 1st prophet of the information society: religious community (oral) -> Gutenberg Galaxy (printing) -> Global Village (Net). Technological determinism: convergence of media, telecommunications and computing = national rivalries, class conflicts and alienated individuals -> world peace, cooperative production and community participation. Stages of growth: industrialism -> mass consumption -> post-industrialism. Marxism without Marx -> McLuhanism without McLuhan: Tom Wolfe -> -> Herman Kahn -> Zbigniew Brzezinski -> Daniel Bell. Fordism: factory as social model -> Net: university as social model. Capitalists and labourers = makers of things -> knowledge class = creators of ideas. USA as builder of ARPANET = prototype of post-industrial civilisation.

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media (1964).
Herbert Kahn and Anthony Wiener, The Year 2000 (1967).
Daniel Bell, The Coming of Post-Industrial Society (1973).

Licklider’s subversive moment: US military funded scientists to build the Net in their own image. The academic gift economy: presenting papers, contributing articles and peer review. Communism in the service of capitalism: pure research -> military and commercial applications. The treachery of the knowledge class: Free Speech Movement -> anti-war protests -> Weather Underground. Universities as Red Bases: academics and students = precursors of the information society. Hippie counterculture prefiguring the global village: underground newspapers, progressive rock bands, community radio stations, independent films and hippie festivals. The Hacker Ethic: 1973 Community Memory -> 1974 Ted Nelson, Computer Lib -> 1975 Homebrew Computer Club. “Information wants to be free” = academic ethos: knowledge =/= commodity. Community media -> interactive networks.

‘As I talked to these digital explorers … I found a common element … It was a philosophy of sharing, openness, decentralisation, and getting your hands on machines at all costs – to improve the machine, to improve the world.’ Steven Levy, Hackers (1994).

Howard Rheingold, The Virtual Community (1994).

The Silicon Valley model: VC = Vietcong -> venture capital. Fordism: big business and big government -> post-Fordism: techie entrepreneurs and neo-liberal economics. CEO heroes: Joseph Schumpeter’s concept of creative destruction -> George Gilder’s celebration of transformative technology. Hip capitalism: 1960s Homebrew Computer Club -> 1970s Apple Computers. The Californian Ideology: 1970s Whole Earth Catalog promoted rural communes -> 1980s The Well pioneered network communities -> 1990s Wired boosted dotcom capitalism. John Perry Barlow: Grateful Dead lyricist and Dick Cheney’s campaign manager. Right into Left: Jeffersonian democracy, the digital citizen and geek libertarianism.

Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron, The Californian Ideology (1995).
John Perry Barlow, A Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace (1996).
Fred Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture (2007).

Net as corporate capitalism: building infrastructure, business intranets, e-commerce and interactive media. The information superhighway: buying and selling information products as commodities. 1920s radio broadcasting = development path for 1990s Net: university and hobbyist stations -> corporate networks. Academic gift economy -> commercial commodity markets: AOL, MSN and Prodigy. Net as precursors of interactive television.

Ithiel de Sola Pool, The Technologies of Freedom (1983).
Bill Gates, The Road Ahead (1995).
Robert McChesney, Corporate Media and the Threat to Democracy (1996).

“Free but not free.” Marc Andreeson (1995).
“Follow the free.” Kevin Kelly (1998)

1990 Tim Berners-Lee @ CERN (European Centre for Nuclear Research) wanted cross-platform information sharing -> 1992 html mark-up language and browser-editor -> 1993 Marc Andreeson @ NCSA (National Centre for Supercomputing Applications), University of Illinois created Mosaic browser -> 1994 Andreeson formed Netscape with Jim Clark from SGI and released Navigator 1.0 -> 1995 Netscape IPO -> Microsoft bundled Explorer 1.0 with Windows ’95 -> 7/12/95 memo: Bill Gates declared Netscape as Microsoft’s No. 1 enemy -> 1996 Netscape = 80% of browsers -> 1997 Explorer = 50% of browsers -> 1998 AOL bought Netscape -> 2000 Explorer = 90% of browsers.

Tim Berners-Lee with Mark Fischetti, Weaving the Web (1999).
Michael Cusamo and David Yoffie, Competing on Internet Time (1998).

Netscape as epitome of dotcom bubble: selling shares not products. The dream of being the next Microsoft: cutting edge technology -> natural monopoly. Tulipomania: dodgy accounting, insider dealing and day traders. binge = 4 Cs: champagne, caviar, cocaine and Concorde. 107 months of dotcom bubble = longest boom in US history. 2001 share crash: e-Toys $80 -> 9c. Enron: smartest guys in the room -> massive bankruptcy -> executives imprisoned. Top website of 2001:

John Cassidy, dot.con: the greatest story ever sold (2002).
Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, The Smartest Guys in the Room (2004).

1970s Ted Nelson’s Xanadu Project: transclusion as information marketplace -> 1980s Silicon Valley model -> 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act and 2001 EU Copyright Directive. Net as P2P: Napster -> Kazaa -> Morpheus -> Pirate Bay. 1999 Wall Street Journal argued that music industry = handloom weavers of information economy. 2007 80% of music downloads = illegal. Michael Dertouzos of MIT Media Lab argued that copyright is over: entertainment = 5% of US economy v. office work = 50%. Net as community media: academics -> hobbyists -> amateurs. Net as DIY technology: open source, open architecture and open access. Linux and Firefox v. Windows and Explorer. Dotcom capitalism in the service of cybernetic communism: Google, MySpace, YouTube and Facebook. Free software and servers for DIY culture = big profits from advertising. Smashing the spectacle: revolutionary politics -> everyday activity. 2003 anti-war protests: mass collective intelligence v. government spin.

John Alderman, Sonic Boom (2001).
Richard Barbrook, The Hi-Tech Gift Economy (1998).
Eric Raymond, The Cathedral and the Bazaar (1998).

‘‘What are we fighting Communism for? We are the most Communist people in world history.” Marshall McLuhan (1969).

Within this MySpace version of the electronic agora, cybernetic communism was mainstream and unexceptional. What had once been a revolutionary dream was now an enjoyable part of everyday life.