|University of Chicago Press|
the guardian Fri 22 August 2008
Not so long ago, it was thought that the internet might prove to be the kind of utopian space that Negri hopes to find. Turner's enjoyably deep cultural history traces the roots of 1990s techno-utopianism in the acid tests and communes of the 1960s. He tells the story through the central figure of Stewart Brand, founder in 1968 of the "Whole Earth Catalog", which promoted American Indian fashions, self-sufficient living, and cybernetic theory. The last, of course, came straight out of the military-industrial complex that Brand and fellow enthusiasts saw themselves as rebelling against.
This and similar tensions are deftly traced as Turner continues the story through the hobbyist computer scene of the 1970s and then Brand's legendary internet bulletin board, the Well, to the electro-optimism of the dotcom boom and Wired magazine, which in 1997 stated on its cover: "We're facing 25 years of prosperity, freedom and a better environment for the whole world. You got a problem with that?" It's quite touching in retrospect. Meanwhile, Brand himself becomes a kind of meta-entrepreneur, linking global networks of idealistic businesspeople, what Slavoj Zizek would call "liberal communists". They didn't beat the system; they joined it.