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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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Missing the Net

Missing the Net

The 1980s, Microcomputers, and the Rise of Neoliberalism

(p.69) 3 Missing the Net
The Net Effect

Thomas Streeter

NYU Press

This chapter focuses on the rise of the microcomputer in the 1980s. The microcomputer was envisioned as an icon of neoliberal marketplace enthusiasms, which helped justify the radical market-oriented policies of the Reagan era. The microcomputer revolution for the first time brought large numbers of Americans into direct contact with interactive computers, an experience framed by the historical accident of the stand-alone technical design of the machines and the entrepreneurial character of many of the businesses involved. Networking was ignored in part because the dominant culture was seeing things through free-market lenses and thus imagined that microcomputers were about isolated individuals buying and selling objects; this obscured the broader social relations like networking that both produced microcomputers and that could be enabled by them. The experience of first-generation microcomputers as distinct commodities thus helped articulate in the popular imagination a new sense of how a market vision reminiscent of the seventeenth-century philosophies of John Locke might be relevant to a modern, high-tech world.

Keywords:   microcomputer, 1980s, interactive computers, networking, neoliberal marketplace

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