The Secret War Between Downloading and Uploading
Tales of the Computer as Culture Machine
- Winner, 2013 Dorothy Lee Award for Outstanding Scholarship in the Ecology of Culture, given by the Media Ecology Association
240 pp., 5 x 8 in,
- Published: April 22, 2011
- Publisher: The MIT Press
As we hurtle into the twenty-first century, will we be passive downloaders of content or active uploaders of meaning?
The computer, writes Peter Lunenfeld, is the twenty-first century's culture machine. It is a dream device, serving as the mode of production, the means of distribution, and the site of reception. We haven't quite achieved the flying cars and robot butlers of futurist fantasies, but we do have a machine that can function as a typewriter and a printing press, a paintbrush and a gallery, a piano and a radio, the mail as well as the mail carier. But, warns Lunenfeld, we should temper our celebration with caution; we are engaged in a secret war between downloading and uploading—between passive consumption and active creation—and the outcome will shape our collective futures.
In The Secret War Between Downloading and Uploading, Lunenfeld makes his case for using digital technologies to shift us from a consumption to a production model. He describes television as the “the high fructose corn syrup of the imagination” and worries that it can cause “cultural diabetes”; prescribes mindful downloading, meaningful uploading, and “info-triage” as cures; and offers tips for crafting “bespoke futures” in what he terms the era of “Web n.0” (interconnectivity to the nth power). He also offers a stand-alone genealogy of digital visionaries, distilling a history of the culture machine that runs from the Patriarchs (Vannevar Bush's WWII generation) to the Hustlers (Bill Gates and Steve Jobs) to the Searchers (Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google fame). After half a century of television-conditioned consumption/downloading, Lunenfeld tells us, we now find ourselves with a vast new infrastructure for uploading. We simply need to find the will to make the best of it.
This is a relatively short, deftly written and attractively published book...I haven't come across a better book on this general topic, or a potentially more influential one.
North Coast Journal
Well known as one of the best analysts of digital culture, he opens here a certain number of historical, cultural, political, and ideological questions that make this book a real must-read for all those looking for new answers to the problems that modern technoculture has been facing...
The Secret War Between Uploading and Downloading by Peter Lunenfeld is the most insightful work on web realpolitik I've read in a couple of years. His analysis/analogy of how ideas emerge to take hold of public discourse and then fade again, based on the Gestalt notion of 'figure/ground' (you'll get it when you read it...) has altered the way I see the webworld, and will significantly change the way I talk to clients about what's going on out there.
The Strategy Review
'Cultural diabetes,' 'plutopian meliorism,' and 'Teflon objects' are only a few of the extraordinarily vivid concepts Peter Lunenfeld points out in this fascinating and impressionistic journey of the key cultural and technological events—from the atomic bomb to the ubiquity of Google—that have landed us in our brave new networked, searchable, and data-filled world.
Judith Donath, Faculty Fellow, Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University
It is formally impossible to write a book that is more of-the-moment than Peter Lunenfeld's The Secret War Between Downloading and Uploading.
Bruce Sterling, futurist, science fiction author, and net critic
Written in sharp, fast-paced prose, Peter Lunenfeld's provocative new book implores today's creative citizens to make more and consume less. In a culture glutted with slick, Teflon-coated downloads, we need to push ourselves to upload our own content. If our work has sticky surfaces and rough edges, it will bond with other ideas in the network and contribute to an ongoing dialogue. The Secret War Between Downloading and Uploading is a ready-to-use manifesto for contemporary media practice.
Ellen Lupton, curator of contemporary design, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, and author of Thinking with Type