William Blake's
The Net Effect looks at the internet, not as a harbinger of the future, but as an expression of the times. This book is not about the road ahead, the next big thing, or the future of ideas, creativity, or the economy. Instead, it looks at how culture has influenced the construction of the internet and how the structure of the internet has played a role in cultures of social and political thought. It argues that the internet's real and imagined anarchic qualities are not a product of the technology alone, but of the historical and sociological peculiarities of how it emerged and was embraced. It finds several different cultural traditions at work in the development of the internet – most uniquely, romanticism.

Beginning in the 1960s an increasing number of engineers and policymakers began to reinterpret the act of computing, not as calculation or prediction, but as a form of expression, exploration, or art, to see themselves as artist, rebel, or both, and to find communities with similar experiences that would reinforce that view. People need to express themselves, they said, people want and need spontaneity, creativity, and dragon-slaying heroism. Direct, unplanned interaction with computers offered an enticing and safely limited unpredictability that would fulfill those goals. That is why we need small computers instead of mainframes, the argument went, why we need personal computers instead of dedicated word processors, why we need the open, end-to-end distributed networking of the internet instead of proprietary corporate systems, why we should invest in 1990s dotcoms, why we need open source software. These discursive habits, the book argues, had consequences: for example, the 1990s dotcom stock bubble owes much to the linkage of romantic tropes to networked computing. The Net Effect demonstrates how the creation of a technology is shot through with profoundly cultural forces – with the deep weight of the remembered past, and the pressures of shared passions made articulate.

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