Cybernetics & Couterculture (Post War America (Cold War…
Cybernetics & Couterculture
1940s (WWII) - government/military funded scientific research (OSRD; MIT Radiation Laboratory, etc)
nonhierarchical, interdisciplinary collaboration.
Norbert Wiener: cybernetics.
1948: Cybernetics; or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, defined cybernetics as a field focused on “the study of messages as a means of controlling machinery and society,”
Embedded in Wiener’s theory of society as an information system was a deep longing for and even a model of an egalitarian, democratic social order. To the readers of Cybernetics, computers may have threatened automation from above, but they also offered metaphors for the democratic creation of order from below.
In Wiener’s account, the environment never exerted instrumental force; rather, it merely set the stage on which the individual could act out a part of his or her own devising.
1954, Human use of human beings: Individuals made their own choices about how to act and react, but within constraints set by their environment. In this sense, among others, Wiener depicted the use of communication as a form of control.
Wiener and Bigelow 'servomechanisms' ( found a way to imagine the material world in terms of the computational metaphor, suggesting that human beings were at some level machines.
vision of the automated human being and the automated organization
Post War America
Cold War military/industry/academic complex
“There is that whole conflict about being professional, leading a middle-class life which none of us have been able really to resolve. How do you be an adult in this world?” (search for cause,identity,authenticity,personal integrity...)
Paul Edwards “closed world discourse.” - the mind of the individual man and the command centers of America’s nuclear defense establishment both seemed to be mechanized tools of management and control.
the end of World War II and the arrival of the atomic era unleashed a wave of quietism and fear across American society; computers played a central role as both tools and symbols in this period. (no machine more commonly represented this stratified, depersonalized social order than the computer. )
(outward, political action)
Free Speech Movement
(against the 'closed world' vision)
sought to build a new world, but did so using the traditional techniques of agonistic politics.
(inward, toward questions of consciousness and interpersonal intimacy, and toward small-scale tools such as LSD or rock music as ways to enhance both.)
(the hippies’ hedonism marked the birth of a new, performative sensibility with which to challenge the social and emotional rigidities of mainstream culture.)
opening the doors of the youth movement to the complex delights of consumer culture.
(the mind-expanding turn toward sexuality and toward the small-scale technologies of psychedelia and music was not only a turn away from the constrained cultural style of middle-class cold war America; it was a turn toward what they imagined could become a new nation, a land of small, egalitarian communities linked to one another by a network of shared beliefs.)
embracing the collaborative social practices, the celebration of technology,
and the cybernetic rhetoric of mainstream military-industrial-academic research.
(presented American commerce, computers, and the cybernetic theories that underlay the management of both as tools with which to achieve the sort of theatrical personal freedom claimed by the long-haired leaders of the counterculture.)
downtown New York art world (the Electric Circus; 1966 USCO multimedia extravaganza) and EAT (1966: 9 Evenings: eater and Engineering.)
For artists, cybernetics offered a new vision of the ways that artworks, audiences, and technologies might interact. (cybernetics provided a rich theoretical basis for countercultural attempts to build more collaborative societies.)
artists began using communication in their works to manage their performers and their audiences.
By controlling visitors by means of communication as well as architecture, the members of EAT aimed to liberate them in countercultural terms. (participatory, non-hierarchical, explorative…)
Pepsi & EAT: they too were seeking to attach the products of mainstream American mass production—in this case, soda pop rather than engineered devices—to the legitimating cool of the counterculture.
EXPO convention: Buchminster Fuller's geodesic dome( a site for introducing foreign audiences to the wonders of American information technology and the principles of cybernetics.)
a single, three- dimensional, computer-driven information system. ( The Pavilion would not tell a story or guide the visitor through a didactic, authoritarian experience. The visitor would be encouraged as an individual to explore the environment and compose his own experience. )
Charles Reich’s The Greening of America. (That the citizens in question would largely be white, affluent, and young was beside the point: “Today there is only one class,” wrote Reich. “The economic class struggle has been transcended by the interest of every- one in recapturing their humanity.”)