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The Net EffectRomanticism, Capitalism, and the Internet$
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Thomas Streeter

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780814741153

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9780814741153.001.0001

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Romanticism and the Machine

Romanticism and the Machine

The Formation of the Computer Counterculture

Chapter:
(p.44) 2 Romanticism and the Machine
Source:
The Net Effect
Author(s):

Thomas Streeter

Publisher:
NYU Press
DOI:10.18574/nyu/9780814741153.003.0003

This chapter looks at how the initial discoveries of the playful possibilities of computing were seized upon in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In the wake of 1960s counterculture, approaches to computing that loosened the connection between means and ends—that allowed play—helped create a subculture within the community of computer engineers. This in turn helped set the conditions for the rise of the modern, internet-connected, graphically-capable computer. The chapter introduces the theme of romantic individualism, an enduring Western cultural discourse with an associated way of imagining the self that passed from milieus like the counterculture based in San Francisco, particularly that surrounding Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth Catalog, into the computer counterculture, as exemplified in the work of Ted Nelson, the computer visionary who coined the word hypertext. Against a background of Vietnam War era social disaffection, key romantic tropes—the strategic use of colloquial language, a studied informality, appeals to self-transformation instead of need-satisfaction, tales of sensitive rebel heroes, and a full-throated departure from instrumental rationality—became associated with alternative uses of computing.

Keywords:   computing, 1960s counterculture, romantic individualism, Stewart Brand, Whole Earth Catalog, Ted Nelson

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