The California Design Dominion: Thirteen Propositions

By Peter LunenfeldDecember 30, 2019

The California Design Dominion: Thirteen Propositions
This piece appears in the Los Angeles Review of Books Quarterly Journal: Weather, No. 24 

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In 1995, designer Andy Cameron and academic Richard Barbrook, both based in London, published a critique of the neoliberal order they saw emerging from the Golden State, almost 6,000 miles away. They labeled this constellation of digital technologies and free market ideas “The Californian Ideology.” Barbrook and Cameron’s opening paragraph laid out the terrain as they saw it:

There is an emerging global orthodoxy concerning the relation between society, technology and politics. We have called this orthodoxy “the Californian Ideology” in honour of the state where it originated. By naturalising and giving a technological proof to a libertarian political philosophy, and therefore foreclosing on alternative futures, the Californian Ideologues are able to assert that social and political debates about the future have now become meaningless.

Looking at these ideas a quarter of a century later — after Google, Facebook, Snapchat, smartphones, and the merging of Silicon Valley tech and Hollywood content — we can see that this “orthodoxy” is no longer emerging, it is firmly established as the ubiquitous design template for 21st-century cultures, economies, and power relationships. Neoliberalism comes in many guises, and it adapts itself over time and across borders, shapeshifting to accommodate the local conditions. But what all the flavors share is a common recipe: start by financializing as many social and political relationships as possible, then add tax cuts for the wealthy and deregulation of business, stir in privatization of formerly public services and affordances, and finish off with an almost religious confidence that the “data” shows this dish is not just the best on the menu — it should be the only one on the menu.

As prescient as Barbrook and Cameron were, the geographic intelligence they offered about “California” was limited, perhaps as the result of their perspective from London — a very long way from the Pacific Coast. Barbrook and Cameron were seduced by Silicon Valley’s own hype for itself, but did not understand that Northern and Southern California (always coastal, never inland) are a construct that complement and even demand each other’s contributions and talents. One of Antonio Gramsci’s most quoted lines both applies and has been superseded here: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born.”

In California, the new was not so much born as designed, and what was “Designed in California” (to adopt the phrase that Apple plasters over its Chinese-made products) took over the whole world. We are no longer in the realm of ideology but instead under what I call “dominion,” a version of empire that does not rely on military power so much as a sense of shared culture. We’ve seen this before: as their empire contracted in the 20th century, the British experimented with alternate concepts, and at the Imperial Conference of 1926 offered “dominion,” defined as “autonomous communities […] equal in status united by a common allegiance” for Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. California extends its global dominion in a similar “cultural” way not via boots on the ground or even ballots in the box, but rather via design and its seductions. The California Design Dominion is a market populism, an opaque form of control supported with every post liked, software updated, or entertainment streamed. We also shouldn’t discount the religious connotations of the word, which come from a famous passage of Genesis 1:28. “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” This dominion can either be interpreted as a call for conscious stewardship, or as unfettered license to exploit. Either and both interpretations work for the California Design Dominion.

The California Design Dominion deploys everything from interface to user experience to narrative arcs to fuse two 19th-century concepts: the utopianism of the Gesamtkunstwerk and the pragmatism of “commercial art.” Out of that fusion, it has created a globalized, techno-economic culture that spans the globe. The California Design Dominion manifests across a huge range of disciplines, but what unifies them is the way they square the circle of empowering individuals to “free” information while simultaneously devising ways to monetize the flow of information. One of the key factors of the California Design Dominion is that no matter how much it appears to celebrate “disruptors,” “innovators,” “rebels,” and “unicorns,” it’s very much invested in making sure that those who arrive first get the majority of the spoils. In other words: It’s Settler Colonialism 2.0.

That neoliberal, settler colonialist mindset was enacted into California state law in 1978 by a Los Angeles anti-tax activist named Howard Jarvis, who pushed through what he called “the People’s Initiative to Limit Property Taxation.” Sold as a mechanism to protect the elderly from being forced from their homes by unsustainable tax increases, the law — which has become the untouchable third rail of state politics — instead ensured that the richest generation of Californians ever, the beneficiaries of a trillion-dollar infusion of federal investment into the state, would never be asked to give back to the state in any meaningful way. There were racial and cultural components to the campaign, with the white population using the vote as a way to pull up the drawbridge before the emerging diverse majority could benefit from the largesse that had supported the growth of the state up until the mid-’70s. The law is best known as “Proposition 13” and it helped to usher in the era of conservatism, austerity, and neoliberalism that is now identified with Ronald Reagan in the United States and Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom. What follows are 13 propositions about the California Design Dominion that followed in their wake.

PROPOSITION 1: California Is No Longer a Simulation of Anything

When Barbrook and Cameron wrote their essay, it was still an intellectual commonplace to claim that California was a “simulation.” The lords of deconstruction and hyperreality like Jacques Derrida and Jean Baudrillard were regular visitors to University of California campuses during the 1970s and ’80s, particularly the new campus in suburban Irvine. In his interview with L.A. free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman, Derrida declared his method of blinkered geographical understanding: “This is always a conviction: we know ourselves by what we believe.” Baudrillard’s America, both a travelogue and a book of critical theory, posits California as the ultimate “‘hysterical’ simulation,” the ultimate in hyperreality. This fascination goes hand in glove with a sense of suspicion. Christa Wolf, a novelist born in East Germany, was intrigued enough by her stay in Los Angeles to publish City of Angels or, The Overcoat of Dr. Freud in 2010 (the English translation came out in 2013) but she felt compelled to add the warning that the ocean in Southern California “has no smell,” unlike the Baltic seas of her youth.

For all their Old World wit and continental insight, there is a sense that these temporary émigrés, or better yet, recurring visitors, bring to Southern California not an openness, but rather a closed system. They continue a centuries-old parlor game of looking at the New World and asking what had been missing or copied from their own environments. What was said of America in general applied even more so to the distillation of difference that was to them California. In their desire (there’s a French concept that will never die) to dismiss the state, they missed the burgeoning reality that the rest of the world was becoming more like California rather than the other way around. 

PROPOSITION 2: The Rest of the World Is a Skeuomorph of the Golden State

Skeuomorphs mimic the material qualities of the objects they are meant to evoke. Greek temples have decorative stone elements that look like the necessary features of wooden structures. The real wood siding on 1930s station wagons later morphs into the wood veneer on the family wagon in the 1960s. The phone icon on your cell is a handset of the kind you haven’t used in decades. The skeuomorph is an affordance — a way to define how an object should or could be used. It’s designed to create an instant familiarity and usability, a way to bypass the need for training in a new design language or order of operations. These kinds of affordances are not universally endorsed. Tech writer Clive Thompson maintains that skeuomorphs hobble innovation “by lashing designers to metaphors of the past,” but the Interaction Design Foundation counters with an argument first applied to Lazarus, “skeuomorphism is dead, long live skeuomorphism.”

 Many entrepreneurs and development officials now look to California for guidance, wandering Silicon Valley trying to figure out start-up culture, high-tech spin-offs, and how to design a positive view of failure. Commercial real estate developers have long tried to figure out how L.A. developer Rick Caruso managed to combine Disney’s place-making with a deep understanding the retail space when he created the Grove, an open-air mall that killed the development of enclosed malls across the entire United States. Even Minneapolis is building retail spaces as though there were no bomb cyclone winters in the Twin Cities. A skeuomorph buried in ice remains a skeuomorph in its wood-veneered heart.

An obeisance to free markets often blinded these visitors to the obvious: California had benefited for decades from massive public investment. Over a trillion inflation-adjusted dollars were pumped into the state by the federal government during the course of the 20th century. This money created lasting infrastructures for education, manufacturing, transportation, and communication, upon which later entrepreneurs depended.

California is only 160,000 square miles of the 57 million square miles of the Earth’s surface, or a third of one percent of the habitable globe. To claim that the other 99.97 percent of the planet is but a skeuomorph of this state is economic, aesthetic, and social dominionism of the first order. But then again, isn’t the simultaneous embrace and erasure of difference a defining characteristic of what neoliberalism is and does? The EU’s ham-fisted austerity measures enacted after the recession of 2008 are Teutonic skeuomorphs of the original tax revolt, California’s own Proposition 13, which showed politicians worldwide that you could design a new world order by appealing to middle-class stakeholders, encouraging them to uphold their privileges while leaving the wealthiest untouched, and making sure the next generation — often of people who didn’t look like their older neighbors — stay stuck in place.

PROPOSITION 3: The California Design Dominion Is a Seductive Gesamtkunstwerk

The idea of California has always been utopic. It fuses the freedom of an open frontier (once cleared of its original inhabitants, of course), a gentle climate that allows for the cultivation of pretty much any delicacy (again, assuming an army of ultra-low-wage farm workers), and the growth of individuality, as distance lessened the controls otherwise exerted by families and churches. I’ve written elsewhere of the seductions of transcendental technologies that emerged in the Golden State during the 20th century from the New Age nostrums of Esalen to Scientology’s baroque techno-catechism. But the design of the state and the state’s designs gave birth to and were utterly consumed by a new idea: that the computer was not just “a” but “the” culture machine of the last quarter century, and that this culture machine itself embodies its Californian origins.

The seduction of technology is no more “natural” than its silicon components. Designers work hard at capturing attention and monetizing it. Back in the 1990s, Stanford’s B. J. Fogg kluged together a new word, “captology” — from “computers as persuasive technologies” or CAPT. He set up a small lab to explore how users could be seduced into spending more time on whatever digital device they were using. Stanford students started to graduate from Fogg’s lab just around the time that mobile telephones began morphing into mini-networked computers. Those devices, especially Apple’s iPhone — distinguished, as always, by the fine and seductive phrase “Designed in California” — were quite literally tailor-made to execute Fogg’s three-part plan for designing persuasive technologies: get specific, make it easy, and trigger the behavior. Dominion’s Gesamtkunstwerk now had its marching orders.

PROPOSITION 4: The California Design Dominion Fuses Libertinism and Libertarianism into an Erotics of Individualized Consumption

Many of the chroniclers of the age — from Tracy Kidder to John Markoff to Brenda Laurel to Fred Turner — have noted how the NorCal libertine hippie ethos melded with SoCal’s libertarian economics to imbue first the personal computer and then its more mobile descendants with a distinct market magic: purchasing them could bring liberation. The first generation of computer hackers still believed the idea that keeping things free and open would free and open the world. They were followed by generations of tinkerers, developers, and marketers who followed the dictum of their turtle-necked prophet Steve Jobs: “Real artists ship.” He was redefining art as the production of deliverable commodities. To clarify, those who crave dominion can’t just talk about markets, they have to flood them with salable product. It doesn’t matter if that product is tangible, like computers or personal digital assistants, or immaterial, like websites and apps that are “free” only if the value of one’s attention is literally zero.

Los Angeles’s North Valley suburbs produce a torrent of pornography that streams globally 24/7 to every wired device not specifically blocked by government order or religious edict. Those electronic moans are certainly evidence that our solitude enhancement machines support an onanistic libertinism. But even those times when Silicon Valley chooses to follow an ascetic route, it emphasizes a market solipsism. The life- extending, ultra-low- calorie dieting, quantified self- exploring tech maven ascetics are still just consumers following their commodifiable bliss, just with a separate set of apps and products.

No matter, the single most important thing is to establish a revenue stream. The 21st-century grail of tech domination is to transcend nature itself, becoming that most seductive and yet impossible of creatures, the “unicorn.” For the Silicon Valley venture capitalist, there is no greater object of lust than a privately held company valued over a billion dollars (inflation being an issue even for venture capitalists, there are now also “decacorns” valued over 10 billion).

PROPOSITION 5: The California Design Dominion Worships Oxymorons Like Billionaire Rebels and Sexy Geeks

The #MeToo moment began in California, linking stories of Google executives keeping sex slaves with the more tabloid-worthy reports of the Hollywood casting couch. And yet, both industries have always been explicit about their desires to dominate not only markets, but also whatever sexual partners came their way. “Unicorn” can refer both to a billion-dollar start-up and another rare find — a beautiful young woman interested in joining a tech bro and his partner for a threesome. This connection may not be a coincidence. There is an equation that combines desire and the freedom to profit: creating the new (or usually new-ish) imbues both the producer and the consumer with the true California spirit of rebelliousness. From Malibu to Marin, the rebel is lauded, not just as a figure on the edge, but also as someone ready, willing and able to save the world, to make it a better place, to share the love. As California Design Dominionists, these “revolutionaries” will be compensated at unicorn levels (with both money and sex) for inventing the future and keeping it entertained. Rather than maintaining firewalls between the economic and the erotic, the “disruptors” collapse all of life’s distinctions into one continuous flow of consumption and production.

To do good and do well, to change the world like a Lenin or a Trotsky but to live like a Romanov or a Rockefeller, there’s a dream that continues to animate.

 PROPOSITION 6: The Design Genius of California Is Infectious

California has been the hotbed of designing and designating technologies to augment or fully replace the kinds of face-to-face human interactions that characterized the world before neoliberalism.

In San Francisco in 1967, Douglas Engelbart gave a public demonstration of his NLS, or oN-Line System, which laid out in working detail the way we live now. The NLS offered collaborative, networked working environments in which hypertext, dynamic windows, graphical user interfaces, and video were all designed to function as a fluid, encompassing, connected, and ubiquitous whole. Whether it’s the “mother of all demos,” or the latest pitch by a Soylent-swigging techie to a room full of cynical venture capitalists, the point has been to augment the human psyche and sensorium via tools designed to improve workplace productivity and human happiness. Stanford’s design program, otherwise known as, evangelizes a gospel of “design thinking,” thereby proselytizing to the rest of the world the California Design Dominion.

This “augmentation” of the human was a key goal of dominion. In 1967, the Oregon-born and -based poet and novelist Richard Brautigan was the poet-in-residence at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. At the culmination of his residency, he published 1,500 copies of a chapbook titled All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, which he distributed for free, as he often did at that stage of his career. The title poem distills the essence of what augmentation might bring: a return to Edenic bliss.

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.

This was the cybernetics of Marxian fantasy. Once Douglas Engelbart’s machines developed enough grace, they were in his phrase, to “bootstrap” us past the wicked problems of poverty and disease, and into the very garden that Karl Marx invokes in The German Ideology, where communism, makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.

PROPOSITION 7: The California Design Dominion Defines the Contemporary Creation and Distribution of Subjectivity

 If the tech industry had emphasized “bootstrapping” rather than “liking” or “following,” perhaps a different set of problems would have emerged as interconnectivity became ubiquitous. When Leonard Kleinrock sent the first internet message from his lab at UCLA to the Stanford Research Institute in Palo Alto in 1969, it did more than bridge the divide between south and north: that transmission reshaped human life. Rather than freeing us from work to live life, work has become life and life has become work. The boundaries between work and non-work elide and productivity is redefined as true happiness. This fits with designs that privilege measurable units.

As we design sensors into more and more of the physical world and create ways of breaking down ever more of our lived experiences into bits and bytes, the act of measuring becomes imperative. The California Design Dominion is both product and driver of metricization, which is in turn, key to the ontology of neoliberalism. If something can be measured, it should be measured; if it can be designed or retrofitted to be measured, it can be financialized; if it can be financialized, profits belong to those who designed the system in the first place.

In the realm of social media, more posts, likes, and followers means more connection, which means better integration of the individual to the user group, which equals happiness. In the globe’s blue and white Facebook future, we will heart Eloi subjectivities that joyfully trade personal data for network access, or we will be Morlocks banging on skin drums with human bones.

 PROPOSITION 8: Los Angeles’s Requisite Narcissism Has Become Global

The headshot is the starting point for the nascent actor, it is the first opportunity to create the public “self.” The young actor really does study these initial photographs — there’s even a book for them, titled simply 8X10, a selection of best “before-they-were-stars” headshots. The web offers headshots galore, of course, as it has come to offer all that we desire, but the best place to study them is in situ — not in casting offices or on the studio lot, but rather on the walls of Los Angeles’s dry cleaners, restaurants, and shoe repair shops. This is where the analog headshot is destined to languish, where the headshots of a dead rock ’n’ roll drummer shares wall space with the Penthouse Pet of February 1997 and the child star of a long-forgotten Fox family sitcom.

If the success of YouTubers and Instagram influencers has lessened the stranglehold of Hollywood over celebrity, this apparent decentralization is actually a sign of the global obsession with celebrity itself. The Children’s Digital Media Center runs regular focus groups, and finds that young people aspire to fame more than anything else. Surveying 14-to-18-year-olds, a Kaiser Family Foundation study determined that almost a third of teens in the Washington, DC, metro area have gone beyond just wanting to be famous, to feeling that it is likely they will be famous. Is this because they can easily take and share pictures of themselves?

While front-facing camera phones debuted in 2003, it wasn’t until 2010 that the designers of the iPhone 4 made a device that could be held at arm’s length to record and broadcast oneself. The smart phone revolution combined with the self-documentation of social media transformed the headshot into the selfie. Duck-lipped pouts became a global standard of self-presentation, and the shallow Hollywood cliché globalized, changing the way people around the world interact with each other, one swipe, like, and re-tweet after another.

PROPOSITION 9: Neoliberal Economic Policies May Be Less Deadly to the Idea of Culture Than the Smart Phone

All over the world, neoliberal austerity cops scold the makers of culture and strive to strip them of any kind of support that isn’t tied directly to the market. Why should the “public” be taxed for paintings, films, symphonies, poems, and dances that they a) don’t understand, b) don’t like, and c) can watch later on their laptops? The history of philistinism is long and offers at least a few counter-arguments, most too well known to repeat here. What’s new, however, is the extent to which problems arise because the California Design Dominion eats culture and craps “content.”

Content, unlike culture, is designed to be metricizable, likable, and portable from medium to medium. Under the California Design Dominion, the way people encounter culture has built-in safeguards — phones can transform any experience or object into content instantly. Read a book or watch a movie, the internet will transform any opinion you might have into the heady brew of fandom, or its complementary beverage, Haterade®™. The California Design Dominion ensures that there are at least two sides to every cultural event or object: whether the work  feeds the narcissism of the obsessed consumer or that it falls into what I’ve come to term “fannui,” describing any long-term fantasy investments that don’t scratch a nostalgic itch or offer new pleasures.

As the great actor Omar Sharif once said, “When you watch a film you are in, you only watch yourself.” Pity the work of art in the age of algorithmic likability.

 PROPOSITION 10: The California Design Dominion Is Unimodern

 The California Design Dominion cannot create more California, even as it overbuilds in the very areas most prone to fires, eroding coastlines, and earthquakes. But it does create a fully functioning virtual state in the global imagination.

In clearing out local culture and replacing it with metadata-driven content, the California-of-the-Mind trades in what I call “unimodernism.” The global networked culture that originates in the Golden State is unimodern in the sense that modernism in all its variants becomes universal. This uniformity happens in their effect if not affect. In the California Design Dominion’s unimodern era, as bits, online and in databases, a photo is a painting is an opera is a pop single.

PROPOSITION 11: Monetization in the Guise of Empowerment

One of the great business myths of the last quarter century is that Steve Jobs rolled into Southern California and disrupted the entertainment industry so powerfully that it never recovered. Like so many fables, though, it does point to real transformations: from the decimation of the music business to the transformation of movies into something you watch on your phone. But what if we look at the Apple-conquers-Hollywood myth as a story about hybrid creatures — a mutual exchange of DNA, all taking place within the ecosystem we call California. If Hollywood is digitized, is Silicon Valley in turn Disneyfied?

Disneyfication, it should be noted, is not merely about smoothing the rough edges of life, it is about absorbing other cultures and homogenizing and monetizing them. Disney himself did this with the world’s fairy tales. He understood that those stories were written in a different era, for children who were surrounded by death. Twentieth-century children, however, were protected by vaccines and penicillin — they needed inspiration more than warnings. The Little Mermaid dies at the end of the Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 tale, but of course, in the 1989 Disney animated version, she defeats the evil sea witch, marries the prince, and lives happily ever after. This process turns folk culture into an endlessly monetizable series of media products, from Halloween costumes to video games to The Wonderful World of Disney Presents the Little Mermaid Live!, a musical television special. But what of the 20th century’s so-called “popular” or “mass” cultures?

Go out on Halloween, or during any other “carnivalesque” festivities around the globe. Observe the endless parade of little girls in Disney princess gowns and the little boys in Captain Jack Sparrow gear from Pirates of the Caribbean. The latter demonstrates the movement of content from medium to medium: a ride at Disneyland — first opened in 1967 and the last to be personally overseen by Disney himself before his death — becomes a live action film franchise in 2003. Disney’s influence now extends far beyond the companies own animations, movies, and theme parks. Disney has also acquired many other brands and intellectual properties. Think about all the kids and grownups dressed as Pixar characters, from Buzz Lightyear the astronaut to Nemo the fish. There’s also plenty of revelers dressed as our new gods: Marvel superheroes in padded chest plates and plastic masks; Jedi Knights swinging battery-powered lightsabers, wearing ill-fitting robes.

The colonization of our popular culture and imagination by a single company is not exceptional to Halloween or Disney. For many around the globe, Facebook is a way to access the rest of the internet via a blue-and white interface (founder Mark Zuckerberg is color blind, and chose his design schemata accordingly).

While deactivating Facebook is made difficult by design, so is avoiding its subsidiaries. Preferring Instagram (which Zuckerberg acquired 2012) to Facebook, or WhatsApp (2014) to Messenger is akin to dressing as Pixar’s Mr. Incredible (which Disney acquired in 2006), Marvel’s Hulk (2009), or Lucasfilm’s ultimate villain, Darth Vader (2012). Wherever you choose to direct your attention, your cash, or your cosplay, you feed the same central controlling corporations somewhere in California.

PROPOSITION 12: The California Design Dominion Traffics in Totalization

Under the California Design Domain, the attention paid to virtual experiences like Facebook or a Google search, or the funds spent on branded goods are essentially the same. No matter how many services, experiences, and objects are sold with the promise of liberating consumers — freeing them from toil, from boredom, and limits to communication — the very design of these services, experiences and objects locks their users into programs that monetize the flow of data. The California Design Dominion brands and incentivizes consumption at every turn and creates services that loop users into ever more encompassing and inescapable networks.

In a neat bit of reverse corporate procreation, Google spun off Alphabet as its own parent company in 2015. Google’s motto had famously been “Don’t Be Evil,” but Alphabet chose something different: “Do the Right Thing.” Alphabet’s motto allows for moral flexibility — it raises the question “Right for whom?”

The California Design Dominion has algorithms, scripts, metrics, and surveys to determine what’s “right” for stakeholders (that’s not you, by the way, unless you own their stock), and can measure that rectitude in user bases, downloads, and revenue flows. Tweaking these metrics fruitfully creates systems and habits that bind ever-larger global populations into California-ness, not a state so much as a totalized state of being and mind.

PROPOSITION 13: The Greatest Dream That California Sells Is the Idea That in Its Sun-Kissed Embrace You Can Do What You Love

This is the promise and the premise of California Design Dominion.



Andy Cameron and Richard Barbrook, “The California Ideology,” MUTE v. 1, n. 3 (1995).

Antonio Gramsci, The Prison Notebooks (CRC Press and Macat Library, 2017[orig. 1948]).

Jacques Derrida, “The Other’s Language: Jacques Derrida Interviews Ornette Coleman, 23 June 1997,” trans. Timothy S. Murphy, Genre 1 (June, 2004).

Jean Baudrillard, America (Verso, 1989).

Christa Wolf, City of Angels or, The Overcoat of Dr Freud (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013).

Peter Lunenfeld, “State of Transcendence: Spiritual Technologies and the California Dream,” in Justin McGuirk and Brendan McGetrick, eds. California: Designing Freedom(London: Phaidon/Design Museum, 2017) and The Secret War Between Downloading and Uploading: How the Computer Became Our Culture Machine (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011).

B.J. Fogg, Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do (Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 2002).

Tracy Kidder, The Soul of a New Machine (Little Brown, 1981).

John Markoff, What the Dormouse Said: How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry (Penguin, 2005).

Fred Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network and the Rise of Digital Utopianism (University of Chicago Press, 2006).

Brenda Laurel, Utopian Entrepreneur, design Denise Gonzales-Crisp (MIT Press, 2001).

Thierry Bardini, Bootstrapping: Douglas Engelbart, Coevolution, and the Origins of Personal Computing (Stanford University Press, 2000).


Thanks to Arden Stern and Sami Siegelbaum for inviting me to give an early version of these propositions at their 2018 College Art Association panel, “Design and Neo-Liberalism.”


Peter Lunenfeld is Professor and Vice Chair of the UCLA Design Media Arts Department.

LARB Contributor

Peter Lunenfeld is a professor in UCLA’s Department of Design Media Arts, and on the Digital Humanities and Urban Humanities faculties. Director of the Institute for Technology and Aesthetics (ITA), he is most recently the author of City at the Edge of Forever: Los Angeles Reimagined (2020). His website is


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