# Chapter three: Visionaries and Convergences: The Accidental History of the Net
# Chapter four: Grassroots groupminds
This chapter is a history of the Net - technologies, visionaries, institutional debates.
> Could computers automate symbol-handling tasks, and thus help people think faster, better, about more complex problems? To the right person, the line of thought was inevitable, even in 1950; it never ceases to amaze Engelbart that other people didn't see it, too.
> in not too many years, human brains and computing machines will be coupled together very tightly, and that the resulting partnership will think as no human being has ever thought and process data in a way not approached by the information-handling machines we know today.
In our latest Howard Rheingold-course about Augmentation, [we discussed texts](http://augment1.holocene.cc/syllabus) by Douglas Engelbart about [augmenting human intellect](http://www.invisiblerevolution.net/engelbart/full_62_paper_augm_hum_int.html), Vannevar Bush about ['as we may think'](https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1945/07/as-we-may-think/303881/), JCR Licklider about [man-computer symbiosis](http://groups.csail.mit.edu/medg/people/psz/Licklider.html) and [the computer as a communication device](http://memex.org/licklider.pdf). Other thinkers we could have studied are for instance [Ted Nelson](http://ted.hyperland.com/), [Henry Jenkins](https://www.hse.ru/data/2016/03/15/1127638366/Henry%20Jenkins%20Convergence%20culture%20where%20old%20and%20new%20media%20collide%20%202006.pdf) and [Alan Kay](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Kay).
The chapter makes us mindful again about little wonders such as hyperlinks - we consider them nowadays self-evident but of course they're not, and they could have been implemented differently (cfr Ted Nelson and the [Xanadu-project](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Xanadu)).
Also the distributed nature of the Usenet-communities and discussions remind us that our contemporary obsession with all things distributed is not very new.
One of the recurring themes in this chapter is that of innovation. There is the innovation by individuals, but also innovation supported by improbable institutions such as (D)ARPA, innovations by employees at big companies who somehow got green light to do weird stuff, by the convergence of cultures such as academia and DIY-computer builders, by small companies. One could wonder about the impact of the Cold War and whether humanity needs such dramatic context in order to make progress. Or we could ask what the impact is of internet behemoths on innovation, realizing that they can buy any start-up they want to.
Would it still be possible for young people to form a subculture that changes the world, or would their projects be bought by behemoths who would turn those projects into purely commercial products?
Back then, in 1993, Howard asked some questions which are still valid today:
> Who shall determine the new rules about privacy, intellectual property, international trade, that accompany the growth of the Net? In the early 1990s, these questions became the topics of heated debate that will continue for years to come.
> The ability of groups of citizens to debate political issues is amplified enormously by instant, widespread access to facts that could support or refute assertions made in those debates. This kind of citizen-to-citizen discussion, backed up by facts available to all, could grow into the real basis for a possible electronic democracy of the future.
However, it seems the availability of facts is not really all that matters, far from it. Tribal emotions and the feeling of belonging to one or another faction are at least as important for the public debate.
> The key questions of access, pricing, censorship, and redress of grievances will be answered in practice, in law, in executive order or legislative action, over the next five years, and thus determine the political and economic structure of the Net for decades to come.
The political and economic structure of the Net is still changing of course, not necessarily for the better (think net neutrality, the Chinese cyberwall, similar projects in Russia...). Questions not yet visible at that time: the impact of the mobile net and the app economy.
# Chapter Four: Grassroots groupminds
This chapter is all about, well, groupminds.
> The sensation of personally participating in an ongoing process of group problem-solving-- whether the problem is a tick on my daughter's head or an opportunity to help policymakers build a public network-- electrified me.
> When you create a public blackboard, you make everybody a publisher or broadcaster of text. When you begin to sort the messages, you get into groupmind territory, for what you are structuring is a collective memory for many people to communicate with many others.
One Turoff said:
> I think the ultimate possibility of computerized conferencing is to provide a way for human groups to exercise a "collective intelligence" capability. The computer as a device to allow a human group to exhibit collective intelligence is a rather new concept. In principle, a group, if successful, would exhibit an intelligence higher than any member. Over the next decades, attempts to design computerized conferencing structures that allow a group to treat a particular complex problem with a single collective brain may well promise more benefit for mankind than all the artificial intelligence work to date.
Interesting observation about Usenet:
> The nature of Usenet as we know it today--an anarchic, unkillable, censorship-resistant, aggressively noncommercial, voraciously growing conversation among millions of people in dozens of countries--is largely a result of the way the system was designed.
So, Usenet and as it is argued later in the text BBS are unkillable, yet it seems their relevance has been totally reduced. What replaced them and how is that different? Is the internet as described here unkillable?
The value of any knowledge-based virtual community derives from the quality of conversation and the expertise of the pool of contributors. How to ensure quality of conversation? How to select for expertise?
> As one Tree veteran put it, `The barbarian hordes mowed us down.' Thus, in practice, surveillance and control proved necessary adjuncts to maintaining order in the virtual community.
> Like real grassroots, BBSs grow from the ground up, are self-propagating, and are difficult to eradicate. All the high-speed, government-financed internets in the world could turn to lime Jell-O tomorrow and the BBS community would continue to thrive, along with the parts of Usenet that don't propagate via Internet but are passed from computer to computer via modem. Increasingly, the BBSs are linked to the rest of the Net via gateways, but, by their nature, they are not dependent on the Net. There is no way to stamp out the BBS subcultures , unless you shut down the telephone system or go back to the 1970s and un-invent the microprocessor.
The chapter ends with reports about communities specializing in religion, spirituality and sex.