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Francis Pisani: Let's Not Forget What We Owe the Hippies

dormouse.jpgFrancis Pisani is the Bay Area based technology columnist-blogger for El País (Madrid), Le Monde (Paris) and Reforma (Mexico). His articles have been published by more than one hundred publications, in Europe, Latin Ameria, the U.S. and Asia. He has recently contributed to several collective works about online journalism and networks. He lectures at UC-Berkeley, and has lectured at Stanford University as well as at the Universidad IberoAmericana in Mexico City. He is currently coordinating a Ford Foundation funded research project on Transnational Communities and Networks in the Hurricane Basin.

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When I arrived from Mexico and war-torn Central America to cover Silicon Valley I was impressed, and more than slightly skeptical, to find millionaires with some kind of social bent. Money, of course, matters more than revolution around here, but it is not always the whole picture. This is not easy to understand for a foreigner (and much less to explain as a correspondent is supposed to do).

That is perhaps why I enjoyed so much reading John Markoff’s What the Dormouse Said, How the 60’s counterculture shaped the Personal Computer Industry (Viking).

An easy read, the book traces small and meaningful moments in the life of some of the key actors of the PC revolution. This includes Stewart Brand’s first LSD trip as well as Doug Englebart Brooks Hall Auditorium conference on December 9th 1968. “In many wasy it is still the most remarkable computer-technology demonstration of all time” writes Markoff.

What the Dormouse Said weaves the networks of interactions between peace activists who wanted to change the world through protest, hippies who sought to augment the human mind through LSD, and engineers who desired to improve human capabilities through technology.

It sheds a fascinating light on at least two of the key confrontations that matter so much today:

  • People who want computers to substitute humans vs. those who want them to augment the human mind as in Artificial Intelligence vs. Engelbart’s “Augmentation Framework.”
  • “The hacker’s ethos of sharing information” vs. “the defenders of information as private property” as in the Homebrew Computer Club vs. Bill Gates.

    Markoff’s book gives historic legitimacy to those of us who advocate a more democratic and open use of information technology.

    Francis Pisani

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    _Time Pressure_ by Spider Robinson speaks to our debt to the hippies vis a vis computer tech even though it is set in Nova Scotia rather than the Silicon Valley.

    Another of our debts to the hippies is organic foods, soy protein, and direct marketing ideas like farmers markets and CSAs.

    Posted by: gmoke on 18 Jul 05



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