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Posts tagged: cyberculture history

Life on the Fringes of Cyberculture: An Interview with Gareth Branwyn

Klint Finley

Gareth Branwyn

Vice interviews Gareth Branwyn, a writer for the late great Mondo 2000 magazine and author of the forthcoming Borg Like Me:

What are some of weirdest fringe scenes out there?

Well, the whole dark net world of Anyonmous, 4chan (the anonymous images/bbs where rebels, criminals, and crusaders hang out), anonymous P2P networks are pretty kooky. And things like Tor, which you can use to buy mailorder illegal drugs with bitcoin. It has been said that what you see on 4chan will melt your brain, and that’s no lie. You see things, you hear things, that you can’t unsee or unhear.

Then, of course, there’s the whole Jihadist net, but I’ve never checked that out. I’ve also been researching a feature article on sexcam sites and that’s this whole specific world and there’s very kooky stuff on there—naked yoga shows, sexual game shows, women who craft and run raffles and then masturbate when they’re done and send the craft item to the raffle winner. That’s a fascinating subculture that I don’t think anybody outside of it knows much about.

Ah yes, I’ve heard about the sexcam trend. So how do you go about researching something like that?

So far, I’ve just been watching A LOT of cams… for research. I’m establishing relationships with various models and will hopefully convince some of them to talk candidly to me about themselves and their work. This isn’t going to be a piece about the business of these sites, but rather, about the models themselves and their “shows,” who their fans are, the nature of these relationships. I think it’s rather unique and an interesting twist on DIY sex work and net-based intimacy here in the early 21st century.

Full Story: Vice Motherboard: Life on the Fringes of Cyberculture: An Interview with Gareth Branwyn

(via Chris)

The “Mindstyle” of Pseudo-counter Culturalism in the Tech Industry, in 1993 and Today

Klint Finley

Michael Stevenson revisits the “Mondo 2000 vs. Wired” of the early 90s to compare it to the contemporary blogger and startup culture:

The co-optation argument, however, fails to recognize a subtle but important difference between Mondo’s ‘rebel cool’ and that found in previous subcultures. Where subcultures are typically conceived of as ‘outsider’ scenes, from those in the counterculture that consciously ‘dropped out’ of mainstream society to more recent outsider scenes like punk and rave culture, the subversive computer culture Mondo proclaimed to represent was different. To borrow a key theme from Alan Liu’s book The Laws of Cool, Mondo’s cyberculture is best described as a scene of insiders-outside and outsiders-inside. The ideal subversive computer culture was something simultaneously inside and outside of mainstream, corporate America – for example, the corporate- and state-employed hackers and cyberpunks that Mondo imagined to be driving a social and cultural revolution from “inside the belly of the beast,” as Robert Anton Wilson wrote in the magazine’s first issue.

Wired’s style was similarly built on this contradictory positioning. Think, for example, of its portrayals of tech CEOs as rogue upstarts, as outsiders bringing about a subversive future from inside the system. This was also the essence of how Wired itself was imagined and operated – as an independent magazine that would infiltrate and revolutionize the mainstream publishing industry (on this, see especially Gary Wolf’s history of Wired, in which he often points out Louis Rossetto’s ambivalent relationship with his traditional publishing ‘peers’). This was not a co-optation of Mondo’s style, but an elaboration of its outsider-inside identity.

Full Story: webcultures.org: Cybercultural “mindstyles” circa 1993 and 2013

(via John Ohno)

See also:

The Californian Idealogy

Silicon Valley’s Anti-Capitalism-Capitalism

(Disclosure: I write for Wired)

Coming Soon: OMNI Magazine Art Gallery and Book
Vice’s Claire Evans just got to check out the largest known collection of OMNI related ephemera in the world and shares some interesting news:

OMNI was bankrolled by a fountain of cash generated by Penthouse. And by bankrolled, I mean bankrolled: the most shocking thing I found in Jeremy’s filing cabinets wasn’t the Penthouse negatives but stacks of magazines annotated with invoices detailing how much each contributor was paid. For the issue dated November 1989, Guccione’s company, General Media Incorporated, spent $16,843.65 on illustrations – solar sails, airbrushed mazes, a silhouette of Neptune pressed up against an inky sky. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that this sum eclipses the entire monthly operating budgets of many modern magazines.
This is because Bob loved art. His mansions in Manhattan and on the Hudson river were both filled with old masters and paintings by the hundreds of artists he tapped to illustrate OMNI and Penthouse. “Design was everything for Bob,” Jane said. No matter if they were selecting pictorials for Penthouse or laying out the sleek, futuristic pages of OMNI, it was the same. “I knew in the end, we would thinking about that vertical, that horizontal, we’d be thinking about that perfect placement, we’d be thinking about design, color, light.” When Guccione’s empire crumbled – General Media went bankrupt in 2003 – his personal assets were liquidated to pay off debts. The Van Goghs, Modiglianis, Picassos, and Renoirs went to the auction house; the rest of the artworks – sexy pictures and science fiction landscapes alike – were scattered to the wind. […]
OMNI is returning with a vengeance. An exhibition of its art is in the works, some of which I saw: original lithographs and paintings from the magazine, artworks that Jeremy et al. have been tracking down at huge cost. The warehouse now stashes 53 surrealistic oils and fantasy landscapes and contains works by Rafal Olbinski, Robert Kittila, Jon Berkey, Tsuneo Sanda, and Bruce Jensen. Coming up: a book of this collected artwork, released by Powerhouse Books; a panel at the Toronto Fan Expo; and eventually booths at conventions around the country.

Full Story: Vice: OMNI Magazine Will Rise Again
(via Abe)
I bought a stash of OMNI magazines on eBay a couple years ago and it was totally worth it. But you can read scans online for free at Archive.org. If you don’t know where to start, here’s a list of issues with William Gibson stories and here’s the famous issue seen above, with an H.R. Giger cover, an interview with Future Shock author Alvin Toffler conducted by Guccione, a “Computer Lib” article by Ted “Xanadu” Nelson, John Lily on dolphins, fiction by Greg Bear and more.
Or dive into the Fortean index of OMNI to find particular topics of interest.

Coming Soon: OMNI Magazine Art Gallery and Book

Vice’s Claire Evans just got to check out the largest known collection of OMNI related ephemera in the world and shares some interesting news:

OMNI was bankrolled by a fountain of cash generated by Penthouse. And by bankrolled, I mean bankrolled: the most shocking thing I found in Jeremy’s filing cabinets wasn’t the Penthouse negatives but stacks of magazines annotated with invoices detailing how much each contributor was paid. For the issue dated November 1989, Guccione’s company, General Media Incorporated, spent $16,843.65 on illustrations – solar sails, airbrushed mazes, a silhouette of Neptune pressed up against an inky sky. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that this sum eclipses the entire monthly operating budgets of many modern magazines.

This is because Bob loved art. His mansions in Manhattan and on the Hudson river were both filled with old masters and paintings by the hundreds of artists he tapped to illustrate OMNI and Penthouse. “Design was everything for Bob,” Jane said. No matter if they were selecting pictorials for Penthouse or laying out the sleek, futuristic pages of OMNI, it was the same. “I knew in the end, we would thinking about that vertical, that horizontal, we’d be thinking about that perfect placement, we’d be thinking about design, color, light.” When Guccione’s empire crumbled – General Media went bankrupt in 2003 – his personal assets were liquidated to pay off debts. The Van Goghs, Modiglianis, Picassos, and Renoirs went to the auction house; the rest of the artworks – sexy pictures and science fiction landscapes alike – were scattered to the wind. […]

OMNI is returning with a vengeance. An exhibition of its art is in the works, some of which I saw: original lithographs and paintings from the magazine, artworks that Jeremy et al. have been tracking down at huge cost. The warehouse now stashes 53 surrealistic oils and fantasy landscapes and contains works by Rafal Olbinski, Robert Kittila, Jon Berkey, Tsuneo Sanda, and Bruce Jensen. Coming up: a book of this collected artwork, released by Powerhouse Books; a panel at the Toronto Fan Expo; and eventually booths at conventions around the country.

Full Story: Vice: OMNI Magazine Will Rise Again

(via Abe)

I bought a stash of OMNI magazines on eBay a couple years ago and it was totally worth it. But you can read scans online for free at Archive.org. If you don’t know where to start, here’s a list of issues with William Gibson stories and here’s the famous issue seen above, with an H.R. Giger cover, an interview with Future Shock author Alvin Toffler conducted by Guccione, a “Computer Lib” article by Ted “Xanadu” Nelson, John Lily on dolphins, fiction by Greg Bear and more.

Or dive into the Fortean index of OMNI to find particular topics of interest.

Cyberculture History: The Origin Of E-Mail

Klint Finley

No. 1 ESS ADF

Colin Berkshire writes:

The invention of email is widely credited to be Ray Tomlinson (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ray_Tomlinson) in 1971. In one especially oddball webpage, VA Shiva Ayyadurai claims to have actually invented email in 1978. (http://www.inventorofemail.com). Mr. Ayyadurai mostly substantiates his claim by playing games with the definition of what email is, basically arguing that email didn’t exist until his particular program was written, and that nothing beforehand actually amounted to what he defines as being email. I won’t play those games with you here. […]

And, the #1 ESS ADF was in full production service February 3, 1969…almost five years before Ray Tomlinson sent the first email message and well before ARPANet even existed. To clarify, that was full commercial service…not a research laboratory.

When the #1 ESS ADF system was cut into service in 1969, it was of a truly massive scale for the time. 1,250 terminals located in 720 locations across the country were connected. These were used by Western Electric and AT&T Long Lines to send administrative messages, traffic orders, commercial service orders, payroll, plant service results, and budgeting reports. There was no other system, including universities, with such widespread use.

Full Story: Cloudave: The Origin of Email

The system is described in the Bell System Technical Journal in 1970, and is also mentioned by Jim Haynes in an essay on Teletype Corporation.

Cyberculture History: The GUI Turns 50

Klint Finley

My article for Wired on the 50th anniversary of the original graphical user interface:

Fifty years ago today, Ivan Sutherland introduced the first graphical computer application: a drafting program called Sketchpad.

At a time when computers were operated with punch cards and command lines — and the mouse had not yet been invented — Sutherland used a light pen to manipulate lines and shapes on a screen. With Sketchpad, you could draw perfectly straight lines, change the size of shapes without altering the proportions, and create “rubber band lines” you could bend and stretch — many of the things you can do today with programs like AutoCAD and Adobe Illustrator.

Sketchpad’s legacy can’t be overstated. It directly fed the creation of Douglas Englebart’s oN Line System (the subject of the “Mother of All Demos”), which would influence, well, every graphical computing system that came after it, from the Xerox PARC Alto to the Apple Macintosh to the iPhone.

Full Story: Wired Enterprise: iPhone’s Great Granddaddy Celebrates 50th Birthday

Cyberculture History: Early, Influential Online Community The WELL in Danger

First Minitel, now this:

The WELL is a virtual online community with user-generated content that was so influential, it was once featured on the cover of Wired magazine, and a top 80’s UK pop star created an account, to promote his brand there. (Sound familiar?) As you might have read last week, corporate owner Salon.com laid off the WELL staff and is now looking for a buyer. Now the WELL’s last users (it still has over 2,000 subscribers) are making a last-minute bid to buy the WELL from Salon: A thread called “Would you kick in $1,000 for The Well?” (subscriber account required), has already garnered over 120 members pledging $1000 (some less, many more, with at least one pledge of $10,000), for an estimated total of over $120,000. That’s a lot of money, especially coming from so few people, but it may not be enough. Many have pointed out that the Well.com domain name is probably quite attractive to organizations willing to pay a lot to own it. (For example, an HMO who wants turn well.com into a wellness resource.) So at the moment, it’s still unclear what this user-driven campaign will do, though I hope the WELL can survive in some form.

New World Notes: Will The WELL Survive? Members Pledge $100K+ to Buy Influential Virtual Community from Corporate Owners

See also:

The World’s Most Influential Online Community (And It’s Not AOL)

Cyberculture History: French Proto-Internet Minitel to Shutdown at the End of June

Cyberculture History: Alan Turing Might Not Have Committed Suicide

The BBC Reports:

Alan Turing, the British mathematical genius and codebreaker born 100 years ago on 23 June, may not have committed suicide, as is widely believed.

At a conference in Oxford on Saturday, Turing expert Prof Jack Copeland will question the evidence that was presented at the 1954 inquest.

He believes the evidence would not today be accepted as sufficient to establish a suicide verdict.

Indeed, he argues, Turing’s death may equally probably have been an accident.

Full Story: BBC: Alan Turing: Inquest’s suicide verdict ‘not supportable’

He says none of this excuses the way Turing was treated in later life, he just argues that the investigation was handled poorly and the evidence to support the suicide theory are poor. Copeland argues that murder is another possibility.

Cyberculture History: French Proto-Internet Minitel to Shutdown at the End of June

Minitel welcome screen

The French are pulling the plug on Minitel, their national BBS system:

Thirty years ago, France led the world into the 21st century, but the world hardly noticed. In 1981-82, two French inventions offered a glimpse of the future. One was the Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV) or high-speed train. The other was the Minitel. The what? […]

The Minitel was the world’s first large data base accessible to the public. The Minitel terminal – provided free to subscribers – was the first screen-and-keyboard combination widely available in any country. Minitel had chat lines where people could commentate on world events, or their own lives, long before the blogosphere. There was even an abbreviated Minitel language, rather like “text speak”, such as “slt, té ki?” (salut, qui es- tu; or hello, who are you?)

Full Story: The Independent: How France fell out of love with Minitel

I found this via Boing Boing and Bruce Sterling, who both linked to a weird abridged version of the above article that was missing a few paragraphs, including this bit:

Gerome Nox, a veteran male French pop musician, admitted this week to the newspaper Libération that he had in a previous life been “Julie”, an “animatrice” or hostess on one of the first Minitel text-sex lines. Few women wanted the work, he said, so most of the “hostesses”, paid the equivalent of £2.50 an hour, were men.

"(The clients) were like a shoal of starving piranha fish," he said. "No hello. No polite openings. It was to the point and crude." After a while he realised that "my Julie" had become "disagreeable, wicked and odious". He announced online that he was a man "whose job is to inflate all your phone bills. So you’ve all been screwed, just like you wanted to be". He was fired the next day.

See also:

Before the Web, AOL, and Prodigy, There was Minitel

Cyberculture History: Before the World Wide Web Did Anything, HyperCard Did Everything

Cyberculture History: Before the World Wide Web Did Anything, HyperCard Did Everything

cyberpunk stack for Hypercard
Above: an image from the Beyond Cyberpunk Hypercard stack

Ars Technica honors the 25 anniversary of Hypercard, a discontinued desktop hypertext application for Macs:

Even before its cancellation, HyperCard’s inventor saw the end coming. In an angst-filled 2002 interview, Bill Atkinson confessed to his Big Mistake. If only he had figured out that stacks could be linked through cyberspace, and not just installed on a particular desktop, things would have been different.

"I missed the mark with HyperCard," Atkinson lamented. "I grew up in a box-centric culture at Apple. If I’d grown up in a network-centric culture, like Sun, HyperCard might have been the first Web browser. My blind spot at Apple prevented me from making HyperCard the first Web browser." […]

Programmers for the Cyan software company originally wrote their hugely popular puzzle/adventure game Myst as a HyperCard stack. That explains the game’s beautiful graphics and slow motion quality, punctuated by ambient sounds or an unexpected video. But even in 1987, when Macs displayed in black and white, HyperCard developers and graphics artists produced subtle, fascinating landscapes that often escape the Web to this day.

Full Story: Ars Technica: 25 years of HyperCard—the missing link to the Web

Cyberculture History: William Gibson on 90s Cyberculture

ACCELER8OR is running an excerpt from the William Gibson interview conducted by Simone Lackerbauer for the MONDO 2000 history project:

We do, in fact, now constantly inhabit a sort of blended VR, but we now assume that we don’t need the goggles as long as whatever’s on the screen is sufficiently engrossing. And the distinction between real and virtual continues to blur. The virtual is colonizing the real, but generally in ways we don’t notice. VR was predicated on a notion of real/virtual that now seems very last-century. Our grandchildren won’t be able to readily imagine where we were at, with that one!

Full Story: ACCELER8OR: William Gibson On MONDO 2000 & 90s Cyberculture (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #16)

See also:

Whatever Happened to Virtual Reality? - Virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier interviewed by R.U. back in 2002.

Notes from a William Gibson Q&A Session (9/08/10), which covers a little of the same ground.