July 2007


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Chuck Munson <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 9 Jul 2007 17:31:27 -0700
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It could also be argued that the personal computer movement in the Bay
Area in the 1960s was anarchist-inspired.

And lots of people consider Richard Stallman to be an anarchist.

As for communists being influential on the development of the Internet, I
just don't buy it.

Chuck Munson

> Some of the key pioneers in the personal computing revolution were not
> driven by entrepeneurial greed. For example, the Community Memory
> project in Berkeley, California was launched in 1973 by Lee Felsenstein.
> The project allowed remote public access to a time-shared XDS mainframe
> in order to provide "a communication system which allows people to make
> contact with each other on the basis of mutually expressed interests,
> without having to cede judgement to third parties." The Community Memory
> project served as a kind of bulletin board where people could post
> notes, information, etc., sort of like an embryonic version of the
> Interenet.
> Felsenstein, born in 1945, was the son of a CP district organizer and
> got involved in civil rights struggles in the 1950's. Eventually, he
> hooked up with the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley and became a
> committed radical. Lee's other passion was electronics and he entered
> the UC as an electrical engineering major.
> Felsenstein then hooked up with another left-of-center computer hacker
> by the name of Bob Halbrecht and the two went on to form a tabloid
> called PCC "People's Computer Company". Among the people drawn to the
> journal was Ted Nelson, a programmer who had bounced from one corporate
> job to another throughout the 60's but who was always repelled by "the
> incredible bleakness of the place in these corridors."
> Nelson was the author of "Computer Lib" and announced in its pages that
> "I want to see computers useful to individuals, and the sooner the
> better, without necessary complication or human servility being
> required." Community Memory flourished for a year and a half until the
> XDS started breaking down too often The group disbanded in 1975.
> The PCC continued, however, and played a key role in publicizing the
> earliest personal computers. One of the machines that Felsenstein and
> Halbrecht got their hands on was an Altair 8800, the first genuine
> personal computer for sale to the public.
> So enamored of the idea of personal computing were Felsentsein and
> Halbrecht that they then launched something called the Homebrew Computer
> Club. The club drew together the initial corps of engineers and
> programmers who would launch the personal computer revolution. Among the
> participants were a couple of adolescents named Steven Jobs and Steve
> Wozniak who went on to form the Apple Corporation.
> The hacker ethic which prevailed at the Homebrew Computer Club was
> decidely anticapitalist, but not consciously pro-socialist. Software was
> freely exchanged at the club and the idea of proprietary software was
> anathema to the club members. There were 2 hackers who didn't share
> these altruistic beliefs, namely Paul Allen and Bill Gates. When Allen
> and Gates discovered that their version of Basic which was written for
> the Altair was being distributed freely at the club, they rose hell. The
> 19 year old Gates stated in a letter to the club that "Who can afford to
> do professional work for nothing?"
> Another interesting example of the anticapitalist hacker ethic is
> personified in one Richard Stallman. Stallman worked at the MIT
> Artificial Intelligence Lab in the early 1970's and, no doubt influenced
> by the spirit of the age, came to see the lab as the embodiment of a
> philosophy which "does not mean advocating a dog-eat-dog jungle.
> American society is already a dog-eat-dog jungle, and its rules maintain
> it that way. We hackers wish to replace those rules with a concern for
> constructive cooperation."
> Stallman developed EMACS, the most widely used Unix text editor, and
> went on to form the GNU foundation which distributes EMACS and other
> free software. When you press ctrl-x, ctrl-w upon entering EMACS, you
> can read a statement of the GNU foundation which includes the following
> words "If you distribute copies of a program, whether gratis or for a
> fee, you must give the recipients all the rights you have. You must make
> sure that they, too, receive or get the source code." Can one imagine
> Microsoft Inc. issuing a statement such as this?