After Class Writing: Turner’s “Where the counterculture met the new economy: the WELL and the origins of virtual community”

Before our next class, leave a comment on this blog post of at least 250 words summarizing Fred Turner’s “Where the counterculture met the new economy: the WELL and the origins of virtual community.” As a part of your comment, include a sentence describing how and when you first got online.

10 thoughts on “After Class Writing: Turner’s “Where the counterculture met the new economy: the WELL and the origins of virtual community””

  1. Fred Turner is the Department Chair of Communication at Stanford University, with an emphasis on “media, technology, and American cultural history”. He also is a professor by appointment to the history and art departments at Stanford. Much like Professor Gitelman, he is also interested in how the social and historical contexts in which media have evolved also work to shape our interaction with technology and the world.

    We read a portion of Fred Turner’s “Where the Counterculture Met the New Economy: the WELL and the Origins of Virtual Community.” In this work, Dr. Turner explores the history of the “WELL”, which stands for Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link, and how this bulletin board system served as a revolutionary way for the community to connect and share knowledge.

    The WELL harkens back to “Community Memory”, the first computerized bulletin board system, and even before that, the “Whole Earth Catalog”, or WEC, a countercultural magazine tutorial of sorts. Created by Stewart Brand, the WEC was a how-to “guide” on (and review of) tools, technology, ideas, and communication, and Brand tried to make it available to everyone for free. One of the catalog’s mantras was “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish,” which means to not be satisfied with the status quo, to always seek knowledge and innovation. Steve Jobs made reference to this mantra in his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford, and how it impacted his drive for innovation.

    Community Memory was the first published bulletin board system, and it began in 1973 in a record shop. Its innovators decided to launch it in a record store because it was a very popular place of social gathering and sharing at that time. Community Memory was a time-sharing product: customers could come in at their leisure, request communication through a mainframe computer at the store, read or post messages or questions for others, and thereby connect virtually with others if they couldn’t connect in person. It may have seemed as though the computer processed these messages and data simultaneously; however, the mainframe processed these requests one at a time, just very quickly. These systems were revolutionary, translating the 1s and 0s of binary into sounds that allowed computer modems to talk to one another. Community Memory was the forerunner to the WELL.

    The WELL essentially moved the Whole Earth Catalog online via a bulletin board system. System operators would man and monitor the BBS. This was accomplished by phone lines, as there was no internet for the public at that time. As Dr. Haraway emphasized the efforts of a system, a group of people rather than attribute successes to just one person, Dr. Turner also highlights the group efforts in terms of the evolution of the WELL. Something as involved as the WELL did not happen overnight and wasn’t the brainchild of one thinker. It was the product of a complex evolution in ideas and innovation from many people and groups, such as the government, corporations, individuals, and many of these ideas came from novices as well as experts.

    Dr. Turner also makes reference to the “Merry Pranksters”, a group of unlikely people who, in addition to favoring various hallucinogenic substances, were comprised of many great thinkers who had an impact on our virtual existence and freedoms. One particular member, John Perry Barlowe, the lyricist for the Grateful Dead, also created the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Freedom of the Press Foundation. He was active in the WELL, and even back then, he had the foresight to realize users of the WELL and other bulletin boards, if left unattended, would be subject to free speech impingement by the government. Thanks to legislation that had its roots in the EFF, we enjoy a lot of the freedoms online and its modern day constructs that we would not otherwise have known.

    Whig history, or whiggish history, would say that history is always a progression from lesser innovation and liberties toward deeper understanding and enlightenment; everything is “onward and upward”. Dr. Turner is saying that history is not a perfect system of progression, that it evolves in fits and starts, is often messy, accidental, and incongruent, and is not always a step in the “right” or enlightened direction. We sometimes repeat past mistakes, or take many more steps than is necessary to accomplish things. He says that keeping this pragmatic understanding of history in mind will serve us better in grasping the true historical evolution and social contexts of technology in our lives.

    In the mid-1990s, when personal computing became much more ubiquitous, I was in the military and overseas for much of it. Because the military didn’t have much in the way of personal computers or internet access, my exposure to online technologies was limited. In 1998, the army finally began using Lotus Notes, an old database, and so I was able to begin using e-mail and the web in a limited context this way- my first “online” exposure. But in a more traditional sense, my first online experience was in 1999, when I was able to get a PC and access the net on my own.

  2. Fred Turner is a professor at Stanford University and is Chair of the Department of Communication. He is the author of three books which are “The Democratic Surround: Multimedia and American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties,” “From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism,” and “Echoes of Combat: The Vietnam War in American Memory.” He also wrote several essays and articles as well. One of the essays that we read by him is called “Where the Counterculture Met the New Economy: The WELL and the Origins of Virtual Community,” where he talks about how a bulletin-board system (BBS) called the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link (WELL) became a virtual community where many people were able to interact with one another on-line and how the technology back then helped evolve the term virtual community. A bulletin-board system or BBS for short is like a computer server that allows users to connect to that computer where they can share information, connect with other people, leave and read messages, etc. Before the WELL was created, there was a catalog called the Whole Earth Catalog, which was created by Stewart Brand.

    The catalog “presented reviews of hand tools, books and magazines arrayed in seven thematic categories: understanding whole systems, shelter and land use, industry and craft, communications, community, nomadics, and learning.” It was like a magazine that had different products on it and despite being called the Whole Earth Catalog, it did not sell the items that were being shown to the reader. Instead, there was a review of each product, where you can buy it and listed the price. The catalog also served as a network forum. It allowed the readers to write to one another and by doing so it was connecting people with each other, similar to an online community. The catalog became a representation of the network thanks to its readers. With its success, Larry Brilliant the creator of the WELL was looking for a community that was already made up of users and wanted to put them into his system to test it out. He saw that the catalog already had a community of users and proposed a partnership to Brand. Brilliant will bring the computer and the software and in return Brand allowed him to post the items from the Whole Earth Catalog as subjects for discussions onto the computer and allowed users to create their own conversations as well.

    It was the readers from the Whole Earth Catalog and the users from the WELL who made the virtual community a thing. It is what gave rise to people being able to connect with one another around the globe online. It started out with a magazine that was later moved on-line that gave birth to the term virtual community. It may seem like it was a long time ago, but it was a couple of years ago that it happened.

  3. Fred L. Turner’s ” Where the Counterculture Met the New Economy: the WELL and the Origins of Virtual Community.” uses “WELL” to refine the interaction of human knowledge. His article correlates to the article “always already new.” Comprehending the history of technologies is essential. Technology inventions involve many inventors, this is related to Marshall McLuhan’s “We shape our tools, and our tool shapes us.” Wig history is an idea which the history is always progressive; the history is – The future is always inspired by Utopia. Everything in the future seems perfect. Automobile cars, Virtual Reality, Spaceships, etc. However, things happened randomly. Community Memory is the system created by Stewart Brand; it guides people how to involve based on the concept of technology in the future. It involves different new perspectives, new tools, technologies with advancements, and interactions.” He made the free guide that motivates innovation. Steve Jobs also made the speech at the Stanford reveals that life is the way by connecting with dots on time. Community Memory is the computer which exchanges the concepts with interactions; this system was the previous invention of WELL. After a period, the WELL merged with the Whole Earth Catalog online. It’s the invention of creating discourses. It involves debates with new concepts from different people. My first online experience was in 2000 meanwhile back in China; I remember the internet and the voice call can’t be active simultaneously. Making a call would drop the internet connection, those type of personal experience are memorable to me.

  4. Jessica L. Roman
    ENG 1710

    Fred Turner is a professor and Chair of the Department of Communication at Stanford University. Turner earned his B.A in English and America Literature from Brown University, an M.A in English from Columbia University and Ph.D. in Communication from the University of California. His primary focus is media, technology and cultural history. In addition to his work in higher education, Turner also worked as a journalist.

    The essay we read, “Where the Counterculture Met the New Economy: The WELL and the Origins of Virtual Community”, built off of Gitelman’s Introduction, “Always already New”. Gitelman’s work serves to tell us why the historical content of our media is important and how it comes into play in new media. Turner’s essays is an application of what Gitelman brings forth using the evolution of the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link.

    The essay begins with the WELL’s predecessor, the Whole Earth Catalog and focuses on the historical and social catalyst that brought it to fruition. Turner outlines the counterculture and social unrest that lead to these developments. Some of the factors mentioned were the popular and legal use of LSD, the back to the land movement and sentiments surrounding the Cold War. The Whole Earth Catalogue began as a hard printed catalogue that was published bi-annually. Its purpose was to help people do and learn various things in our hastily advancing environment, and served as a guide to those with similar interest.

    The Whole Earth catalogue provided those interested with a network of information, something we take for granted in out internet age. Eventually the Whole Earth Catalogue would become the WELL to fill the need of accessible information for a wider audience. This expansion of the Catalogue was brought about with growing popularity of Bulletin Board Systems; these systems were integral in creating this network of people and information, much of which reminds me of McLuhan’s global village.

    Turner also includes many key figures within this history. In class, Professor Ellis expanded on one such contribution by John Perry Barlow. Barlow was a lyricist for The Grateful Dead, but more importantly, he served as one of the founders of Electronic Frontier Foundation. Established in the in early 1990’s, this foundation was pivotal in how our internet has become what it is today. Barlow and others like him would not be blind to Whig interpretations of our advancement and history. They understood the potential consequences of these developments in our technology, media and communication and potential infringement of our civil liberties. Through their work, our digital interests were protected before the population would realize it was something that needed to be protected.

    My first exposure to the internet was in the mid to late 1990s using AOL.

  5. TO: Professor Jason W. Ellis
    FROM: Ronald C. Hinds
    DATE: April 10, 2018
    SUBJECT: Where the Counterculture Met the New Economy: The WELL and the Origins of Virtual Community

    Dr. Fred Turner, assistant professor in the Department of Communication at Stanford University and author of “Counterculture to Cyber Culture: How Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth Network Transformed the Politics of Information” (Chicago, forthcoming), presented a well-documented article developed from a paper presented, in 2003, to the Society for the History of Technology.

    The Whole Earth Catalog (WEC) was an American counterculture magazine and product catalog published by Stewart Brand several times a year between 1968 and 1972, and occasionally thereafter until 1998. Many people including contributors to the Whole Earth Catalog (WEC) and the Whole Earth T’lectronic Link (WELL) shared materials to help in the endeavor of this reading. WELL represented a social form in which scattered individuals were linked to one another by an information technology.

    The counterculture represented a way of life and a set of ideas that were completely different from those accepted by most of society, or the group of people who live by such conventions. Did all the segments of society benefit culturally and economically from the counterculture phenomenon and its nexus with the anti-commercial bent of the back-to-the-land movement? I say not. For example, the counter culture movement had a disdain for racial segregation but this movement did not end racial segregation.

    While some in the New Left, which was a broad political movement mainly in the 1960s and 1970s consisting of activists in the Western world who campaigned for a broad range of reforms on issues such as civil and political rights, feminism, gay rights, abortion rights, gender roles and drug policy, postured, many people did not, as expected, politically benefit from some of these mealy mouthed radical liberal “reforms.” The New Left was not really revolutionary and it was a real petty-bourgeois, anti-working-class, elitist movement. For these New Leftists, the prevailing view was that workers were all bought off with their high wages, good union jobs, and fancy pensions. Today that seems like a joke, but that was the view at the time.

    Some saw the New Left as an oppositional reaction to earlier Marxist and labor union movements for social justice that focused on dialectical materialism and social class, while others who used the term saw the movement as a continuation and revitalization of traditional leftist goals. Dialectical materialism (sometimes abbreviated diamat) is a philosophy of science and nature, based on the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and developed in Europe. The New Left imbibed the politics of the Students for a Democratic Society or SDS, and vice versa, which itself imbibed the “lowest-common-denominator bourgeois liberal pressure politics.” Did the New Left and the SDS pursue the goals of insurgent political movements? My answer is no and it is naïve to think otherwise. This movement lacked the social power to execute change. They were for more of the same. They did not wage a fundamental break from the old order. In a piece in the New York Times dated March 22, 2018, titled, “Columbia’s Uprising: A 50-year-Old Legacy,” by Jennifer Schuessler, it is reported of African American veterans of the protests “and how their role had been pushed to the margins in strike accounts emphasizing the mostly white Students for a Democratic Society.” So these blacks felt marginalized.

    In “The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier,” Howard Rheingold returns the focus of our attention to people, working back from this commercialized present to the very beginnings of computer-mediated communication, giving us the lay of the land before it was discovered by government and the corporate giants. What he reveals to us is a true electronic frontier of fiercely independent enthusiasts who have created closely knit communities and a rich culture online, exchanging everything from scientific data to sexual fantasies, child-rearing tips, and free-ranging political opinions. `
    Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog was one of an anti-hierarchical politics of the New Communalist movement as well as its celebration of disembodied spiritual unity. Much like N. Katherine Hayles’s post human conception.

    While the Whole Earth Catalog, which influenced many including Steven Jobs, (Steven P. Jobs, the visionary co-founder of Apple ushered in the era of personal computers and led a cultural transformation in the way music, movies and mobile communications were experienced in the digital age), an opinion about which he shared with graduating students at Stanford University, in 2005, provided a good service by leading the way and bringing society closer through the information highway, it did not introduce lasting change. The counter culture movement died in the mid-1970s.
    Theodore Roszak, author of “The Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition,” found common ground between 1960s student radicals and hippie dropouts in their mutual rejection of what he calls the technocracy—the regime of corporate and technological expertise that dominates industrial society. According to Dr. Turner, Theodore Roszak popularized the term “counterculture.” Roszak subscribed to a mindset, of those who emerged from the counter culture movement, which found kinship among the experts who subjugated rationalized organizations and was conducive to alienation, hierarchy, and a robotic view of social life.

    The conception of the New Left can only be realized with a dismantling of the old order and not by reforming it. Victories can be reached not through communal living and the back-to-earth movement and other coalitions. For the wealth to be properly distributed it would mean ripping out the wealth from the hands of the few. The working class is the only organization with the power and through which major class struggle can be organized to change society.

    Major change still eludes us but WEC and WELL did influence many people yesterday and today. Hopefully one day mankind will truly overcome the obstacles of financial, racial, social and other inequalities.

    The peace sign which was one of the symbols of the Counter Culture.


    Coleman, D. (2011, November). “From 1960s New Left to Trotskyism, Recollections of a Participant.” Workers Vanguard. on 5 April 2018.

    Rheingold, H. (1993). The Virtual Community: Finding Connection in a Computerized World. Addison-Wesley Longman Publishing Co., Inc. Boston, MA.

    Roszak, T. (1995, October). The Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition, With a new introduction.

    Turner, F. (2005). Where the counterculture met the new economy: the WELL and the origins of virtual community. Technology and Culture, 46(3), 485-512. Retrieved from

    The origin of the Peace Sign (1960’s) – Mortal Journey Retrieved on 6 April 2018.

    Keywords: Counterculture, Whole Earth Catalog (WEC), New Left, Whole Earth T’lectronic Link (WELL)

  6. Fred Turner is the Chair of the Department of Communication at Stanford University. Turner earned a B.A. in English and American Literature from Brown University an M.A. in English from Columbia University, and a Ph.D. in Communication from the University of California, San Diego. He has written several books, the one in focus is titled “Technology and Culture.” In the chapter titled “Where the Counterculture Met the New Economy: The WELL and the Origins of Virtual Community,” Turner discusses the Whole Earth Catalog: an American counterculture magazine created in 1968 by Stewart Brand. Counterculture, part of the title of this discussion, is defined as “a way of life and set of attitudes opposed to or at variance with the prevailing social norm.’’ During the creation of the Whole Earth Catalog, the 60’s was a turbulent time period where counterculture raged to serve as the opposition against the many injustices our nation was going through. The Whole Earth Catalog was created as a means for the reader to become educated and inspired, to shape their own environment, and share it. Soon after, the WELL launched on dial-up bulletin boards where , on it, information was exchanged, and where communities were fostered. The first community that sprung from WELL is the counterculture: a community of refined hippies The second group that sprung from WELL is the New Left: a community of the highly political. Both communities sought to use the WELL to spread their ideologies onto other users of the WELL. The WELL is no different than any of the other social media sites that exist today. People and their political ideologies continue to roam in groups, influencing, sharing, discoursing over politics.

  7. Fred Turner is Char of the Department of Communication at Stanford University. He wrote three books after earning his bachelor’s degree in English and American Literature, as well as the PhD in Commutation from University of California. For our class we were assigned to read a part of his work, “Where the Counterculture Mer the New Economy: the WELL and the Origins of Virtual Community.” WELL stands for Whole Earth Lectronic Link, making this an important abbreviation as it served to connect community in order for them to socialize and share their knowledge. This was a platform created similar to other platforms that we have in today’s worlds to talk and communicate or interact with our friends and family. We discussed wat is the community memory, the computer that exchanges concepts with people’s interactions, a system was previously invented at WELL. When Whole Earth Catalog was created there were many different views and opinions in regard to our nation. This catalog was created in order for all readers to be more inspired and gain more knowledge. The reader could be capable to shape their own surrounding and be able to share it with others. After that WELL launched their bulletin board where information could be shared with others. First communications began through hippies and later political population. Behind both groups they wanted to spread their knowledge and ideas to others. Just like today we spread messages on new media platforms like Facebook or Twitter and we want others to know what we want them to know. I believe my first time communicating on the internet platform was to check my mail back in 2000s.

  8. As an assistant professor at Stanford University, Fred Turner is the Chair of the Department of Communication. His work includes is media,technology advancement and social history.
    Turner’s “Where the Counterculture met the New Economy:the WELL and the Origins of Virtual Community,” expanded on the innovation of a vitrual community. His work questions the origin of this new media as the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link or simply know as WELL. Turner expands on this concept as a social improvement in a virtual world. Ideas understood was the use of computers and how they connect to create a social interaction. This push includes a intensive budget to bring communication with technology. Science alongside American social history has developed the ultimate space using machines to bring social communication to life.
    My first experience being online is using AIM. AIM was an instant messaging service produced by AOL. I was able to communicate with my older cousin who was 1000 miles away in real time via the computer. This new concept was intriguing to as it expanded into new media outlets over time.

  9. Fred Turner’s “Where the Counterculture Met the New Economy: the WELL and the Origins of Virtual Community” talks about the Whole Earth Lectronic Link or the WELL, Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) , and the Whole Earth Catalog or WEC. Bulletin Board Systems were a way of bringing a community together. Used mostly in web 1.0 users used a computer, signed in to the Bulletin Board System and were able to post things such as questions. For example, in a record store if I had a question that I wanted to ask the people I could go and sign in and post my question, then check back a few days later and see all my responses. This was a really good way to bring people together and form communities. The whole Earth Catalog was a magazine that was like a how-to internet for people. This was an amazing thing because it let ordinary people learn how to use a computer and access the internet. People were then able to get into a Bulletin Board System to join or even form a community. The WELL was a Bulletin Board System and was one of the most well known comminutes. My first online experience was with this old boxy computer we used to have, it was a Compaq and my mom let me play games on

  10. Fred Turner is a Professor at Standford University. He is also the chair of the Department of Communication. He is the author of three books:
    The Democratic Surround: Multimedia and American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties.
    From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism
    Echoes of Combat: The Vietnam War in American Memory.

    Finally, we learn the social and historical background of an early technologies communication in community building in Fred Turner’s work, “Where the counterculture met the new economy: the WELL and the origins of virtual community”
    With this essay, we discuss Kimkessy Mary pranksters, the furtherbust and lsd, store brands, whole earth catalog: Remember, stay hungry, stay foolish, the first public computer bulletin board system known as the community memory, Liopold’s records in Barclay California and the well also known as the ( whole earth lectronic link) which was co-founded by Stewart Bran and Larry.
    The well began as a BBS and later translation to an internet base online community. The effect on this online community on the people in Silocone Valley and by extension to all of us who use this technologies they make can not be…

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