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Oprah Time: Nation of Rebels Why Counterculture Became Consumer Culture by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Heath and Potter set out to square the circle on how consumerism and counterculture aren’t mutually exclusive – how the hippies of the 1960s and 1970s become the yuppies of the 1980s. They put together a skillful argument in the early part of the book that counterculture is an extension of the bohemian artistic view of the world that has been around for centuries. In terms of class: the traditonal landed gentry whose riches are in heirlooms have been supplanted by the merchant classes and now with the knowledge economy there has been a rise of a creative class.

Nation of Rebels

Heath and Potter take things further when they seek to disprove the fallacies that they see the counterculture has been built on. Many of their points are valid, however where it falls down is in its criticism is in its opposition to the ‘appropriate technology’ aspect of counterculture. This is where the Homebrew Computer Club came from, the community norms for successful web 2.0 pioneers like Flickr, the EFF, open web technologies and open source software. Their whole argument is that libertarian values on the web were responsible for the rise of spam. To me this was like saying that the laser printer and the laminating machine are responsible for underage drinking.

The laser printer and the laminating machine can be used to make fake IDs, but they can also be used to make notices in community centres and legitimate IDs that help utility company personnel reassure vulnerable consumers that they are the real deal.

Nation of Rebels is a facinating well-researched read: its authors Heath and Potter are masters in the art of rhetoric, however I wouldn’t take everything at face value in the book.