The Net Effect

Romanticism, Capitalism, and the Internet

240 pages

December, 2010

ISBN: 9780814741160



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Thomas Streeter is Professor of Sociology at the University of Vermont. He is the author of Selling the Air: A Critique of the Policy of Commercial Broadcasting in the United States.

All books by Thomas Streeter

2012 Honorable Mention from the Association of Internet Researchers for their Annual Best Book Prize
Outstanding Academic Title from 2011 by Choice Magazine 

This book about America's romance with computer communication looks at the internet, not as harbinger of the future or the next big thing, but as an expression of the times. Streeter demonstrates that our ideas about what connected computers are for have been in constant flux since their invention. In the 1950s they were imagined as the means for fighting nuclear wars, in the 1960s as systems for bringing mathematical certainty to the messy complexity of social life, in the 1970s as countercultural playgrounds, in the 1980s as an icon for what's good about free markets, in the 1990s as a new frontier to be conquered and, by the late 1990s, as the transcendence of markets in an anarchist open source utopia.

The Net Effect teases out how culture has influenced the construction of the internet and how the structure of the internet has played a role in cultures of social and political thought. It argues that the internet's real and imagined anarchic qualities are not a product of the technology alone, but of the historical peculiarities of how it emerged and was embraced. Finding several different traditions at work in the development of the internet—most uniquely, romanticism—Streeter demonstrates how the creation of technology is shot through with profoundly cultural forces—with the deep weight of the remembered past, and the pressures of shared passions made articulate.


  • “‘We are romantics even, and perhaps especially, in the face of high technologies,’ writes Thomas Streeter. In his profound and illuminating analysis of the interactions between technology and desire, Streeter shows how conflicting visions of the internet have not so much reflected the pre-given triumph of a new technology as shaped the possibilities and limitations of who we are and who we might become.”

    —Peter Stallybrass, University of Pennsylvania

  • "The Net Effect is an excellent resource for anyone reseraching the influence of society on technology."


  • "The Net Effect makes a great contribution to our knowledge on the question of labor in Internet technology."

    International Journal of Communciation

  • “One part palm reader and one part politico, Streeter makes total sense of the Internet: its 60s roots, its 90s ethos, and why it works and feels the way it does today. Whether or not you remember firsthand what a long strange trip it’s been, The Net Effect will persuade you with its lucid rendering of the shared experiences, strange bedfellows, and stealth mythologies that have shaped what it means to be online.”

    —Lisa Gitelman, NYU, and author of Always, Already New: Media, History, and the Data of Culture