An Historical Overview

August 17, 2011 § 2 Comments

Howard Rheingold, “Grassroots Groupminds” from The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier (1993)

CMC as the Borg, resistance is etc. Technology bringing people back together after technology ripped people apart ISN’T IT IRONIC. Many-to-many. PLATO/EIES. Collective memory –> collective intelligence, early stated goal, utopian hopes for CMC, white people. Platform influencing behavior. Newsgroups. Early articulation of produsage. BBS culture. Early lulz via CommuniTree ORIGINS. FidoNet. God is in the machine. Three cheers for compu-sex.

Roy Rosenzweig, “Wizards, Bureaucrats, Warriors and Hackers: Writing the History of the Internet” (1998) 

History books don’t talk about the Internet. But I bet you 5 U.S. American dollars that soon they will. The question is, how will that history be presented? Eh there’s like four approaches so far — biographic, bureaucratic, ideological and social. The most important thing is that we root whatever discussions the 1960s, which is when all the most magical shit went down, and raises the basic & persistent question about whether the Net is (or should be) “open” or “closed.”  Summarizes Halfner & Lyons’ contextualist/”great men” approach in Where Wizards Stay Up Late, lol thanks for that, then Bruce Sterling’s ideological/politically-focused Brief History of the Internet, which focus on Cold War Doomsday DOD origins, then the more bureaucratic-minded (and also thumbs up to defense origins) Transforming Computer Technology: Information Processing for the Pentagon 1962-1986 by Arthur Norberg and Judy O’Neil, then Paul Edward’s less Internetty but more philosophico-politico-Foucauldian The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold World America. Oh but there’s also the histories that are all like “tra-la-la we all love each other let’s go smoke drugs,” namely Michael and Rhonda Hauben’s celebratory Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet and Steven Levy’s idealistic (at least in terms of origins) Hackers: Heros of the Computer Revolution, double-thanks. I’m not sure if my analysis is intended to advocate  the bringing together these different approaches or to show I know more than the authors of the books I’m reading. But ultimately who cares due to I’m smart.

Katie Halfner and Matthew Lyon, Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet (1996)

Here are a bunch of guys who created the Internet. They are not war-mongers and they’re all very smart. Wizards! The made the internet because the internet wanted to be made. Bob Taylor is one of these nice men. JCR Licklider is another. Paul Boran, Donald Watts Davies, Larry Roberts, Frank Heart, Bob Kahn, Len Kleinrock, Tim Berners-Lee are too. And such a diverse group of guys! lol just kidding. Important collections of letters: D/ARPA, IPTO, RAND, CSNET, TCP/IP, time sharing, packet switching. “When something worked, it was adopted.” “Standards should be discovered, not decreed.”

Steven Levy, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution (1984, 1994)

The Tech Model Railroad Club. The System. Hacking in the original sense, as an elegant solution or prank or cool thing. The Hacker Ethic: Access to computers should be unlimited; always yield to the Hands-On Imperative; all information should be free; mistrust authority; for a hacker there’s no such thing as race or class or gender (say the white men to other white men); computers are beautiful; computers make the world a better place. Phone phreakin the night away. All sorts of shenanigans. Great umbrage at locked doors. The basic moral of our story: the Hacker Ethic undergirds the development of the Internet, at least it did, but capitalism ruined everything. Like, video games were intended to be open-source and free. Computer programs were intended to be open-source and free. But then all these hippies, they sold out man. Got greedy, started building fences and shit. It’s a goddamn shame.

What I learned from these fine scholars:

I like this grouping because in one way or another each text highlights the nature/nurture divide people in our line of work are constantly skirting around but often dismiss from the bedchamber because discussions of technological determinism, jesus is this 2003? I still like the question, though, which for me isn’t just about how popular things became popular (one of my favorite stories about any internet thing ever, featured in Halfner and Lyon’s book actually, is here) but also about how and why certain things were allowed to exist in the first place. It’s like, people have made the internet into what they want it to be, sure. Which of course is tied up into how and why people would want certain things over certain others; none of this is arbitrary. At the same time there are these huge –and hugely contradictory– forces which literally pruned our available options (not just our perceived need for this or that thing), engendering an interplay of factors both at an institutional and interpersonal and institutional-interpersonal level. Personally I think it’s just super.


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§ 2 Responses to An Historical Overview

  • wizardcore says:

    this sounds terrible to have to read through. Levy’s shit ain’t so bad if you contextualize the op’s date of publication (ok, I’m sympathetic to the general argument about what went rong). And wizards did create the internet, just not potter-ish ones. More like Ged and his nameless thing.

    • Yeah it’s so weird reading some of this…totally eye-rolling in some places, but then I have to be like, stop being an asshole this was published 87 years ago…

      Also, cool website!

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