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

(Ben Green) #1

Prologue xiii

studies, the history of science and technology, and social thought that
informed information policy discussions, but I did not anticipate the work
in institutional and historical economics, the sociology of economics, and
organizational theory that the story required. Least of all did I imagine that
this story would throw me headlong into a study of Soviet bureaucracies. It
is my hope that this work will lighten some of that burden for the patient
reader. In the end, this book should be understood primarily as an inter-
disciplinary work of synthesis driven by a fascination with the relationship
between communication technology and people. I have tried to write for
the media and technology scholar as well as the general-interest reader,
although the book draws on history, area studies, and social commentary
to inform the emergent subfield of network studies in information policy
as well. Like all these fields, its primary orientation is not to a single dis-
cipline but to the scholarly enterprise of making strange modern network
culture, a technique that the Soviet critic Viktor Shklovsky first popularized
as ostranenie, or “defamiliarization.”^4 It seeks to offer what historian Peter
Brown calls “salutary vertigo” or a disorientation that clarifies the foreign-
ness of a modern networked culture that was once thought familiar.^5 To
do so, this work seeks to separate readers from hidden assumptions about
modern networks and the social, technological, political, and economic
conditions that organize and are subsequently organized by it. For me, this
book began as an essay on the forgotten origins of computer networks in
the Soviet Union and ended up being about much more, including a cau-
tionary tale in the annals of technological innovation and a critical reflec-
tion on the assumptions steeping the current network world.

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