Home
Californian Ideology
 
Edit History
Search Keywords
Richard Barbrook
Andy Cameron
Wired
Californian Ideology
neo-liberalism
John Perry Barlow
Louis Rossetto


The Rise of the 'Virtual Class'
part 3

Who would have predicted that, in less than 30 years after the battle for People's Park, squares and hippies would together create the Californian Ideology? Who would have thought that such a contradictory mix of technological determinism and libertarian individualism would becoming the hybrid orthodoxy of the information age? And who would have suspected that as technology and freedom were worshipped more and more, it would become less and less possible to say anything sensible about the society in which they were applied?

The Californian Ideology derives its popularity from the very ambiguity of its precepts. Over the last few decades, the pioneering work of the community media activists has been largely recuperated by the hi-tech and media industries. Although companies in these sectors can mechanise and sub-contract much of their labour needs, they remain dependent on key people who can research and create original products, from software programs and computer chips to books and tv programmes. Along with some hi-tech entrepreneurs, these skilled workers form the so-called 'virtual class': '...the techno-intelligentsia of cognitive scientists, engineers, computer scientists, video-game developers, and all the other communications specialists...'[13] Unable to subject them to the discipline of the assembly-line or replace them by machines, managers have organised such intellectual workers through fixed-term contracts. Like the 'labour aristocracy' of the last century, core personnel in the media, computing and telecoms industries experience the rewards and insecurities of the marketplace. On the one hand, these hi-tech artisans not only tend to be well-paid, but also have considerable autonomy over their pace of work and place of employment. As a result, the cultural divide between the hippie and the 'organisation man' has now become rather fuzzy. Yet, on the other hand, these workers are tied by the terms of their contracts and have no guarantee of continued employment. Lacking the free time of the hippies, work itself has become the main route to self-fulfillment for much of the 'virtual class' [14].

The Californian Ideology offers a way of understanding the lived reality of these hi-tech artisans. On the one hand, these core workers are a privileged part of the labour force. On the other hand, they are the heirs of the radical ideas of the community media activists. The Californian Ideology, therefore, simultaneously reflects the disciplines of market economics and the freedoms of hippie artisanship. This bizarre hybrid is only made possible through a nearly universal belief in technological determinism. Ever since the '60s, liberals - in the social sense of the word - have hoped that the new information technologies would realise their ideals. Responding to the challenge of the New Left, the New Right has resurrected an older form of liberalism: economic liberalism [15]. In place of the collective freedom sought by the hippie radicals, they have championed the liberty of individuals within the marketplace. Yet even these conservatives couldn't resist the romance of the new information technologies. Back in the '60s, McLuhan's predictions were reinterpreted as an advertisement for new forms of media, computing and telecommunications being developed by the private sector. From the '70s onwards, Toffler, de Sola Pool and other gurus attempted to prove that the advent of hypermedia would paradoxically involve a return to the economic liberalism of the past [16]. This retro-utopia echoed the predictions of Asimov, Heinlein and other macho sci-fi novelists whose future worlds were always filled with space traders, superslick salesmen, genius scientists, pirate captains and other rugged individualists [17]. The path of technological progress didn't always lead to 'ecotopia' - it could instead lead back to the America of the Founding Fathers.

 
About the site