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Fred Turner: The 60s counterculture roots of today’s social networks

A Stanford professor of communication, Turner explains how the Utopian ideals born in 1960s communes made today’s Silicon Valley possible.

A woman sits near the "Marilyn" print by American pop artist Andy Warhol at the "The Square of the Peace" Museum Centre.

A woman sits near the “Marilyn” print by pop artist Andy Warhol at the “The Square of the Peace” Museum Centre in Russia. | Reuters/Ilya Naymushin

It may not be widely known, but before he launched Apple, Steve Jobs lived for a year on a commune.

The fact that he became one of the wealthiest capitalists in America, however, should not surprise anyone who knows anything about the antecedents of Silicon Valley, says Stanford’s Fred Turner, professor of communication and history.

The truth is that there is a strong countercultural thread running through the fabric of today’s digital world. From “phreaking” scams of the long-distance telephone system to the Whole Earth Catalog, those who sought to disrupt society often found comfort in computers. For proof, one need only consider the Utopian ideals that led to the ascendancy of the internet itself — universal, free and limitless. Seen in that light, Facebook is about as communal as it comes. Nonetheless, while all that freedom has made many people very rich, very fast, it has not come without a cost to our social consciousness and our social fabric, says Turner.

In this episode of The Future of Everything radio show, Russ Altman and Fred Turner look at the somewhat surprising communal roots of today’s social, digital world. Tune in, if you dig.

You can listen to the Future of Everything on iTunes, Google Podcasts, SoundCloud, Spotify, Stitcher or via Stanford Engineering Magazine.