How Not to Network a Nation. The Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet

(Ben Green) #1

From Network to Patchwork 105

the health of the man appointed to steer its grandiose technical ambitions,
and Kovalev’s “rational system” fell short of convincing his colleagues in
economic administration that ceding their own decision-making power to
automated computers could either rationalize or systematize the work of
economic planning. All four of these early network projects—three in the
Soviet Union and one in the United States—did not take shape due to an
imagined and often misleading connection between political and techni-
cal systems. All four rooted their imaginations in the explicitly cybernetic
terms of analogizing across technological and social systems. This imagina-
tive and at times utopian instinct for political-technological system analogs
leads theorists to neglect the significant costs and consequences that come
from actual political practice. As it often happens, the revolutionary reach
of our modern technological imagination of large-scale networks (among
other things) often ends up serving local institutional self-interests and the
status quo. The next chapter extends and complicates this theme in its his-
tory and analysis of the central and longest-lasting attempt to network the
Soviet Union.

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