Daily Life in Cyberspace: How the Computerized Counterculture Built a New Kind of Place

The Whole Earth Catalog publication was a visionary endeavor undertaken by the counterculture that was able to economically prosper and from it, in 1985, sprung The WELL: “the birthplace of the online community movement.” Members of the counterculture realized that technology could be used for a new form of communication that had not been utilized by computers previously.  The PC industry was the next defining topic of this generation. Deadheads became the largest consumers in this budding enterprise.

The WELL was “consciously a cultural experiment” and was founded with 3 goals in mind: 1. “to facilitate communications among interesting people in the San Francisco Bay area,” 2. “to provide sophisticated conferencing at a revolutionary low price,”

and 3. “to bring e-mail to the masses.”

Its founders believed The WELL should be free (or as close to free as possible,) profitable, an “open ended universe,” “self-governing, a “self-designing experiment” (having its users define its system,)  and finally, seen as a “community.”

This “community,” that would be be created, would not necessarily be a “conflict-free environment.” Users would need to believe in the “possibility of community” for its preservation.  There has to be something that brings them back to these chat rooms. “Reciprocity” plays a large role in this new culture.  People learn to offer information without the promise of receiving anything of interest back within the near future, which is a risk most people are not willing to take.

The WELL is made up of many people, many thoughts, and many beliefs. The problem with this new stage of thought/information sharing unfortunately is that there is an excess of information out there and few effective ways to process it all.  “Computer conference conversations are dialogues that are situated in a specific place and time. The place is a cognitive and social one, not a geographic place.” These conversations transcend “traditional hierarchical organizational boundaries,” which I find the most interesting point in the reading. The fact that people from all over the world, with varying skill levels and experience, can come together in one landless place, despite their differences, amazes me.

Of course the children of the counterculture saw the potential in this technology !

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