The Internet Imaginaire
264 pp., 6 x 9 in,
- Published: September 26, 2008
- Published: March 16, 2007
The collective vision that shaped the emergence of the Internet: what led software designers, managers, employees, politicians, and individuals to develop and adopt one particular technology.
In The Internet Imaginaire, sociologist Patrice Flichy examines the collective vision that shaped the emergence of the Internet—the social imagination that envisioned a technological utopia in the birth of a new technology. By examining in detail the discourses surrounding the development of the Internet in the United States in the 1990s (and considering them an integral part of that development), Flichy shows how an entire society began a new technological era. The metaphorical "information superhighway" became a technical utopia that informed a technological program. The Internet imaginaire, Flichy argues, led software designers, businesses, politicians, and individuals to adopt this one technology instead of another.
Flichy draws on writings by experts—paying particular attention to the gurus of Wired magazine, but also citing articles in Time, Newsweek, and Business Week—from 1991 to 1995. He describes two main domains of the technical imaginaire: the utopias (and ideologies) associated with the development of technical devices; and the depictions of an imaginary digital society. He analyzes the founding myths of cyberculture—the representations of technical systems expressing the dreams and experiments of designers and promoters that developed around information highways, the Internet, Bulletin Board systems, and virtual reality. And he offers a treatise on "the virtual society imaginaire," discussing visionaries from Teilhard de Chardin to William Gibson, the body and the virtual, cyberdemocracy and the end of politics, and the new economy of the immaterial.
By considering the role played by social imagination, or imaginaire, in the shaping of innovation, Patrice Flichy provides a new frame to understand our technological world. His book enables the reader to understand better the interactions between military and business strategies, community utopia, and cyberpunk art that have made the Internet possible. This seminal contribution thus reconciles and places in a new perspective various sociological and historical studies, from Janet Abbate's Inventing the Internet to Vincent Mosco's The Digital Sublime.
Antoine Picon, Professor of the History of Architecture and Technology, Harvard University Graduate School of Design
Flichy provides an intelligent guide to the social significance of Internet culture and advances our understanding of why it thrives even when ballyhooed booms go bust.
American Journal of Sociology
[Flichy's] historical perspective, the depth of his research, and the sobriety of his conclusions are more pressingly relevant than ever.
Patrice Flichy is a distinguished media historian. In The Internet Imaginaire he shows how the competing technological visions advanced over the last three decades by industries and governments, scientists and cultural critics, and counterculture and community activists have been woven together to create the fabric of today's Internet. The book is a wide-ranging, compelling survey that will engage Internet scholars and general readers alike.
Leah A. Lievrouw, Professor, Department of Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles