From Counterculture to Cyberculture

“From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism” is my favourite book by Fred Turner. He is a professor of communication at Stanford University. The book explores the origins of the digital utopianism that emerged in the 1990s, tracing it back to the countercultural movement of the 1960s and 1970s. You can consider this book the continuation of his other book, “The Democratic Surround.”

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

Internet was an innovation started and funded by DARPA and the US department of defence. Its practical applications primarily focused on building an ad-hock messaging and information exchange network. The idea of the Internet as a global utopian community to connect people who wanted to exchange ideas was inspired by a combination of hippy artists who used a lot of psychedelic drugs and hosted psychedelic parties and libertarian right investors who believed the Internet would become space where governments would have little influence over and wouldn’t be able to regulate. Stewart Brand was one of the artists and a key influencer to lead the counterculture movement.

Stewart Brand was a member of the art collective USCO, who created experimental light and sound environments and film projections in museums, dance clubs, theatres, and universities. At the time, he was distributing buttons with a profound question “Why haven’t we seen a photograph of the whole earth yet?” That self-funded campaign led to NASA releasing the public’s first photograph of Earth. This was during the cold-war and Brand hoped that humanity would see the Earth as a whole and interconnected system and, as a result, give peace a chance.

Later, Brand founded the Whole Earth Catalog with a picture of the planet earth on the cover. At the time, many people had decided to move back to nature and restart humanity by living in communes, growing their food, building their habitats, and, you know, the whole hippie movement. WEC contained information for sourcing anything from farming, medicine, and creating habitats, to technology and cybernetics equipment. This was not a shopping catalogue but rather for knowing where to find what in this network of communes nationwide; it was a hard copy Internet, Google, or Wikipedia. We often attribute the quote “Stay hungry, stay foolish” to Steve Jobs, but this quote was from the WEC, and this catalogue was one of the resources that inspired Steve Jobs to start Apple computers.

WEC was later recreated as an online community called Whole Earth Lectronic Link or WELL, where users could communicate. Naturally, the WELL users called themselves WELLBeings! So as the hippy communes collapsed, they migrated to cyberspace. Today I learned that is still online!

This book also covers the start of the WIRE magazine and silicon valley once the World Wide Web became available to the public.

Stewart Brand and his friends laid the groundwork for the concept of the world wide web as a global community; however, they also note that this vision of the Internet as a utopian space of freedom and society has been challenged by the commercialization of the web and the rise of surveillance capitalism.

Platform Capitalism by Nick Srnicek

Platform Capitalism by Nick Srnicek is a historical summary of the mainstream internet platforms we use daily on our devices. It also does a decent job of describing different types of internet platforms and their business models.

Platform Capitalism by Nick Srnicek

This book is a quick read; it took me only a few days to finish. Despite the word “Capitalism” in the title, in my opinion, the author keeps a somewhat politically neutral position on the topic and focuses primarily on the platforms’ taxonomy and evolution rather than how they impact the communities and their culture.

Suppose you are an internet consultant or developer who develops and maintains any multi-user infrastructure on the Internet. In that case, the Platform Capitalism helps you better connect the dots between what you already know and what happens behind the closed doors of your organization and leadership team.

The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein

I’m a big Naomi Kelin fan, and it took me a while to finish this book. The Shock Doctrine is a good summary of the history of Free Market Capitalism favoured by center-right and conservative political parties.

The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein

This book explains how a Noble Prize-winning American economist named Milton Freedman became an advocate of a free-market economic system and minimal government interventions. Freedman became an advisor to politicians such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Their policies often boiled down to tax cuts, defunding of social programs, privatization, and deregulations.

The impact of these policies was relatively minimal in more democratic countries yet devastating in South America and the Middle East. Free market policies are often introduced after an intentionally induced shock, such as a war or natural disaster.

The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein

The Shock Doctrine is ample with historical details from countries that adopted the free-market economic principles and those who chose to move away from it.

Superintelligence – Paths, Dangers, Strategies – by Nick Bostrom

Superintelligence - Paths, Dangers, Strategies - by Nick Bostrom

To be frank, I got this book because I liked the owl on the cover, and I have a thing for owls! If you are into machine learning and artificial intelligence thought experiments, you would want to read Superintelligence.

According to the Swedish author, Nick Bostrom, Superintelligence is any intellect that greatly exceeds the cognitive performance of humans in virtually all domains of interest. He believes if machine brains surpass human brains in general intelligence, this new superintelligence could replace humans as the dominant lifeform on Earth. The book explores multiple scenarios that superintelligence can happen and how we can detect or possibly contain it.

I think, by the time a superintelligent agent is born, it will be too late, and it will either kill us all or adopt us as their pets!

Nick Bostrom is a Professor in the Faculty of Philosophy at Oxford University and founding Director of the Future of Humanity Institute. This book has small text, long sentences, and sizable paragraphs, so it takes a committed reader to make it to the other side of the book.

The Case for Mars by Dr. Robert Zubrin

The Case for Mars by Robert Zubrin

The Case for Mars by Dr. Robert Zubrin is a good primer about everything you need to know about humanity’s attempt to colonize Mars. The author, Dr. Zubrin, is an American aerospace engineer, author, and advocate for the human exploration of Mars.

As an engineer, his book has formulas and timelines, estimates, and analyses, so you’d need at least a Freshman college or university level of math, physics, and chemistry to make sense of them all. Don’t let that stop you; because the author offers you suitable history lessons and some good arguments favour tax-funded and commercial scientific endeavours to reach Mars. According to Dr. Zubrin, a human mission to Mars is entirely within reach even using late 1950s rockets, not computing, technologies.

Dr. Zubrin advises against building a Battlestar Galactical ship for this trip. Instead, he advocates living off the land and using local resources to make a two-way mission possible

It took about 250 days for the British navy to make it to Australia for the first time. Now with proper planning, we can go to Mars within only six months! Dr. Zubrin advises against building a Battlestar Galactical ship for this trip. Instead, he advocates living off the land and using local resources to make a two-way mission possible. We can send uncrewed spaceships and equipment to Mars in advance to use local Marsian resources to make rocket fuel and oxygen a round-trip to Mars possible.

If you follow NASA and SpaceX missions to Mars, this book will give you some good foundational knowledge to enrich your experience.