Wiener borrowed the word homeostasis from the field of physiology and applied it to social systems; he picked up the word feedback from control engineering; and from the study of human behavior, he drew the concepts of learning, memory, flexibility, and purpose.
That is, society could be seen as a system seeking self-regulation through the processing of messages. In Wiener’s analogy, for instance, public information systems such as the media served as servomechanisms. The TV screen became to the society as a whole what the radar screen was to the World War II gunner—a system through which to measure and adjust the system’s performance.
“Is this embrace just a trick of language?” he asked. “Yes, but that is the unseen revolution. We are compiling a vocabulary and a syntax that is able to describe in a single language all kinds of phenomenon [sic] that have escaped a common language until now. It is a new universal metaphor. It has more juice in it than previous metaphors: Freud’s dream state, Darwin’s variety, Marx’s progress, or the Age of Aquarius. And it has more power than anything else in science at the moment. In fact the computational metaphor may eclipse mathematics as a form of universal notation.”10
In Mario Savio’s view, the power of computers to render the embodied lives of individual students as bits of computer-processed information symbolized the power of the fac- tory to turn people into corporate drones and the power of the militarized state to turn young people into soldiers. For Barlow, though, that same power offered men and women the chance to enter a world of authentic identity and communal collaboration. Freed from the institutions that structured privilege in the material world, the individual in Barlow’s cyber- space could join a society much like the one imagined by the Free Speech Movement—a world in which hierarchy and bureaucracy had been re- placed by the collective pursuit of enlightened self-interest.
For Barlow, digital technologies had ceased to be emblems of bureau- cratic alienation and had become instead the tools by which bureaucracy and alienation could be overthrown.
If the American state deployed massive weapons systems in order to destroy faraway peoples, the New Communalists would deploy small-scale tech- nologies—ranging from axes and hoes to amplifiers, strobe lights, slide pro- jectors, and LSD—to bring people together and allow them to experience their common humanity.
For all the utopian claims surrounding the emergence of the Internet, there is nothing about a com- puter or a computer network that necessarily requires that it level organiza- tional structures, render the individual more psychologically whole, or drive the establishment of intimate, though geographically distributed, communities.