Truckstops on the Information Superhighway: Ant Farm, SRI, and the Cloud

Tung-Hui Hu

Assistant Professor, English, University of Michigan

To start keeping track of network glitches—to watch, for example, all Chinese network traffic routed through a 1,700 square foot house in suburban Cheyenne, Wyoming on January 21, 2014—is to quickly realize that the Internet’s shape is far goofier than we can imagine. The Internet bears little resemblance to the elegant mesh with which RAND Corporation scientist Paul Baran depicted a distributed network in 1964. (fig. 1c). Filled with complex vortices and firewalls and black holes, the Internet might be depicted more accurately as a series of topological contortions (fig. 2)

Fig. 1. On Distributed Networks, 1964, Paul Baran, diagram for RAND research memoranda 3420, © RAND Corporation. (Used with permission.)

Fig. 1. On Distributed Networks, 1964, Paul Baran, diagram for RAND research memoranda 3420, © RAND Corporation. (Used with permission.)

Fig. 2. Klein Worms, 1971, Claude Ponsot, illustration for Paul Ryan, “Cybernetic Guerilla Warfare,” in Radical Software 1:3.

Fig. 2. Klein Worms, 1971, Claude Ponsot, illustration for Paul Ryan, “Cybernetic Guerilla Warfare,” in Radical Software 1:3.

Why is it, then, that digital media scholars persist in picturing the Internet as a distributed, grid or mesh-shaped network? In part, this is because Baran’s diagrams have been misinterpreted as a historical narrative: a move from what Paul Edwards has termed the “closed-world” discourse of the 1950s and early 1960s to decentralized and, later, distributed computer networks. [1] As evidence, these scholars cite the progression from the centralized, command-and-control structures of Air Force computer rooms to ARPAnet and the Internet. [2] Though this is a misreading of Baran’s article, it remains a seductive mythology because it explains the dispersion of power through the formal qualities of the computer networks that supposedly enable it. This model serves digital studies well because it allows the Internet to stand for network culture as a whole, and uses the technology as a proxy for larger societal changes. But what happens if you take the digital out of the equation?

This essay returns to the moment that this shift away from centralized networks is said to occur to tell an alternate story. It is certainly true that in the 1960s and 1970s, a group of engineers from California were actively trying to find an alternative to centralized networks. Not all of these engineers were working for RAND or other military-funded laboratories, however; many of them were artists. [3] And for them, as for the rest of the country, the networks they were designing did not necessarily involve digital data. Instead, at that moment, television was the centralized system that needed to be subverted or at least radically redesigned. Network television—famously described as a “wasteland”—was a monolithic schedule of programming pumped out by NBC, CBS, ABC, and, until it folded, DuMont: national broadcasters which homogeneized the flow of information. The studios broadcast to the homes; information flow was a one-way arrow—at least until a 1969 Federal Communications Commission decision allowing community access television (CATV), better known as cable. Television delivered the network. But video and cable had the potential to hijack it.

In 1970, the same year that computer scientist John McCarthy asked if home computer networks could lure TV viewers away from the tube with alternative sources of information, an artist group called Raindance Corporation proposed a “Center for Decentralized Television.” [4] A playful parody of the RAND Corporation’s 1964 design for a decentralized digital network, its name suggested its paradoxically centralizing tendencies. Formed in response to news that RAND Corporation had begun to study cable networks (or, as one contributor speculated, was developing mind-control techniques), the video collective wrote: “We believe culture needs new information structures, not just improved content pumped through existing ones,” and their unrealized “Center” would have served as a re-granting agency for video artists. [5] An early issue of the collective’s newsletter, Radical Software, suggests the thrill of imagining new information structures: the typography of Frank Gilette’s piece, “Loop-de-Loop,” depicts arrows twisted to form loops that lead nowhere. Claude Ponsot illustrates an article about the structure of cybernetics and guerilla tactics with whimsical mathematical diagrams that I invoked earlier. Dubbed “Klein worms,” after the topologically impossible Klein bottle, we are still within the ballpark of Baran’s network diagrams, but just barely. (Figure fig. 2)

These earlier moments of reconfiguring the network structure hold uncanny parallels to present-day digital networks. The first page of Radical Software’s first issue is an excerpt from Gene Youngblood’s book, The Videosphere; a later advertisement summarizes his book as a description of a “single unified system, a ‘decentralized feedback communication network’” that would unite five different mediums: cable TV, portable video, storage networks, “time-shared computer utilities,” and “the domestic satellite system.” Youngblood’s videosphere is often understood metaphorically, as a reiteration of Marshall McLuhan, but here Youngblood turns his attention to specific networks: the FCC’s decision to allow MCI (then called Microwave Communications Inc.) to compete with AT&T by renting CATV circuits; a “‘quasi-laser’ broadcasting system… [that] transmits up to 15 miles,” a technology pioneered by MCI that will anticipate fiber-optic cable; the US Defense Department satellites, along with Soviet and the commercial Comsat networks. Youngblood’s union of heterogeneous networks is eerily similar to the union of satellite, land, and radio networks that was dubbed, five years later, the Internet. Add in storage networks and “time-shared computer utilities,” and you have cloud computing – the system that allows computing resources to be accessed seamlessly from cell phones, tablets, and computers.

Excited by the potential of this new technology, the late 1960s and early 1970s became a test bed for questions that would preoccupy computer scientists and artists alike: If you could design a two-way, ‘feedback network,’ could you even out the structures of power and create a more participatory media environment? And if you could change the media, would its viewers see differently? These are large questions, but ones which have inevitably lost their potency over time, because so many of these structures have come into fruition: viewers feed back images and videos to television shows all the time, as with citizen-generated videos that regularly air on CNN, and YouTube has become an even more eclectic repository for images than cable has ever been. We take distributed networks, and their properties, such as two-way interaction, for granted; the rhetoric of the artists is too utopian to be taken as more than a product of its time. And as David Joselit reminds us, while video and cable may be a “cautionary tale regarding the Internet’s claims as a site for radical democracy,” it is an embarrassing lesson to learn –particularly given how quickly cable, like the Internet, became commercialized and assimilated into the system of power it once claimed to subvert. [6]

These artistic attempts to critique and reconfigure the network of television at the same time as ARPAnet and the Internet suggest that a larger, generalizable discourse about networks was at play at this time that was not limited to computer technology. Essayist Joan Didion aptly summed up the massive social upheaval in the late 1960s by invoking Yeats: “The center was not holding.” [7] Despite a smoothly functioning marketplace and a high GNP, the gravitational pull of these mechanisms no longer seemed enough. Normative culture seemed torn by what Didion described as a sense of unease. And that decentralized networks were created in response—whether as alternatives to the centralized system of information distribution, or for upholding the center’s survivability by dispersing its power – does not strike me as a coincidence. [8]

I would like to open a window onto this larger discourse by examining one of Radical Software’s collaborators, the San Francisco-based collective Ant Farm (Chip Lord, Doug Michaels, Hudson Marquez, and Curtis Schreier). Ant Farm’s proposal for a media distribution structure called a “Truckstop Network” allow us to see how fertile the ground was for alternate network structures. The caveat is that my necessarily abbreviated consideration of a single Ant Farm project misses not only the rest of their work, but also contemporaneous examples from the rich history of video; for interested readers, I direct them to references that take up this subject in more depth. [9]

With this caveat in mind, let us move to 1970, when a modified Chevrolet van with a clear plastic bubble and a distinctive antenna hit the road. Serving as Ant Farm’s temporary home for a year, it contained a TV window, a videotape setup, silver roof-mounted speaker domes, and a dashboard-mounted camera, all hardware “reminiscent of a B-52.” [10] It was quickly named the Media Van, and became an integral part of what they eventually dubbed a “Truckstop Network.” Ant Farm bought several of the new Portapaks and went on tour, stopping at several colleges, shooting video of “dancing chickens, an okra farmer, a ground-breaking in Scottsdale, aspiring pop singer Johnny Romeo belting out a ballad in the Yale School of Architecture…” [11] If the television network refused to broadcast these video images, the Media Van would bring it directly to the audience’s door.

This van drove off during a moment of transition for highway culture. Through the 1960s, Jonathan Crary argues, the automobile and the television worked hand-in-hand in popular culture to conceal the growing complexity of capitalist representation. A highway route had an effect much like television, acting as a sort of TV channel that seemed to enable a driver/viewer’s autonomy by giving him or her the power to choose—even as it cloaked the mechanism of capital behind it. [12] In the 1970s, Crary continues, television “began to be grafted onto other networks… the screens of home computer and word processor,” and the computer’s window replacing the car’s window as the predominant space of the virtual. [13] Though the ideal of car culture had begun to sour—a matter brought to a head by the 1973 oil crisis – it was precisely the highway’s identification with Cold War surplus, rusted roadside attractions, and its lack of newness that made it fertile ground for artistic reappropriation. [14]

Thus Truckstop Network, was more than a road trip tour; it was also a statement about mobility itself. Standing at the hinge between auto window and computer window, it proposed a countrywide network of truckstops for “media nomads.” Placed just off the highway, each truckstop would offer an array of services for those living on the road: housing, electricity, and water; truck repair and a communal kitchen; but also communications services – computers and video equipment – seen, “like food and gas, as nutrients necessary for survival.” [15]

Fig. 3. Truckstop Network Placemat (recto), 1971, Ant Farm, offset printing on paper (2-sided); 17 x 11 in.; University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Photo: Benjamin Blackwell. © Ant Farm. (Used with permission.)

Fig. 3. Truckstop Network Placemat (recto), 1971, Ant Farm, offset printing on paper (2-sided); 17 x 11 in.; University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Photo: Benjamin Blackwell. © Ant Farm. (Used with permission.)

Indeed, the computer aspect was essential to this plan: not only would it link all the truckstops, or “nodes,” in Ant Farm’s parlance, into a nationwide “communication network,” but it would also direct the visitor to the services available at other truckstops – a wood-working shop, or astrology lessons, for example. [16] Truckers could be sent to other nodes via several highway directions; a placemat passed out to audiences on the Ant Farm tour maps several of these cross-country routes. (fig. 3) On the flip side of the placemat, a star identifies potential Cold War surplus sites that could be reused as nodes, an act of reappropriating what Mark Wasiuta describes as the nation’s “expanding computerized military network and its underground command centers.” [17] A sketch for one of these sites, identified as a former desert missile silo near Wendato (likely Wendover, Utah), contains plans to transform layers of the silo into various layers for maintaining software (film/video) and hardware (auto/bus), all wired via a solar dish to its nervous system/core. [18]

For Ant Farm, the interconnections turned each node into a “physically fragmented city” of media. Distributed across the country in places where “land is cheap and codes are lax in between the cities,” – one thinks of the arid wheat field in Amarillo, Texas, where they executed their most famous piece, Cadillac Ranch, or the California deserts where they set up inflatable structures – the Truckstop nodes would be connected by the simplest yet most robust piece of Cold War infrastructure, the interstate highway. And by placing the nodes at the side of the highway, it was possible to build an existence where the journey was the destination, and where the motion of the network was the point of the network. Cars traveling between the nodes thus became packets; remaining in constant motion, each packet would not stop at one node for long before traveling to another node. In other words, packet-switching. [19] Without a centralized node (although at one point Ant Farm envisioned a central computer to direct traffic), the network would constantly move information from point to point while avoiding the concentration of information in any one place. Moreover, the nodes were cheap, inflatable, and flexible. In effect, Ant Farm had envisioned an anarchic, distributed network for mobile living.

We may be tempted to dismiss this plan for “mobile living” as so much New Age artist cant. But Truckstop Network articulated an idea of mobility that would soon profoundly shape cloud computing. For the first Internet protocol was not developed through ARPAnet, as one might expect, and as most network historians claim, but through the physical act of driving on the open road. With its fixed nodes, fixed links, and bunker-sized computers, ARPAnet was the quintessential embodiment of “closed-world” infrastructure. Instead, military researchers envisioned soldiers going mobile. Though there is no evidence that researchers at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) saw any of Ant Farm’s media productions, they nonetheless shared a similar vision: media would need to produced and consumed on the road.

For SRI’s engineers, this meant retrofitting a ‘bread truck’ style van to test the difficulty of broadcasting and receiving network signals on the move. They wanted to see if, for instance, their packet radio connection would remain intact if the van went under a highway overpass. [20] (Packet radio is an early version of today’s cellular networks.) Rigged on the inside with a DEC LSI-11 computer and two packet radio transmitters, the SRI van ran its first successful test in August 1976, six years after Ant Farm’s own media van. The test was of a protocol that would bridge the aerial network—the Packet Radio Network, or PRnet – with the ground-based ARPAnet. It was the first time two disparate computer networks were bridged, and as a result, it is considered the first inter-network, or Internet, transmission.

Fig. 4. Diagram of first two-network Internet transmission, 1977, SRI International. Originally published in “Progress Report on Packet Radio Experimental Network,” September 1977. © SRI International, Inc. Used with permission.

Fig. 4. Diagram of first two-network Internet transmission, 1977, SRI International. Originally published in “Progress Report on Packet Radio Experimental Network,” September 1977. © SRI International, Inc. Used with permission.

Fig. 5. Media Van: mobile vt studio, 1971, Ant Farm; ink, stamp marks in black ink, sticker, and collage elements on paper; 11 x 17 in.; University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Photograph: Benjamin Blackwell. © Ant Farm. Used with permission.

Fig. 5. Media Van: mobile vt studio, 1971, Ant Farm; ink, stamp marks in black ink, sticker, and collage elements on paper; 11 x 17 in.; University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Photograph: Benjamin Blackwell. © Ant Farm. Used with permission.

In this inaugural test, the van is clearly visible in the right side of the network diagram, connected to two clouds labeled PR NET and ARPA NET. (fig. 4) What is perhaps missing from the diagram is the texture of the setting, of the van’s driver – protocol engineer Jim Mathis – trucking down Northern California’s Bayshore Freeway, and the van’s final stop, which was chosen because it was a “‘hostile environment’ – in keeping with relevance to military application”:

This was the parking lot of Ross[o]tti’s biker bar in Palo Alto, still well in reach of the repeater units at Mt. Umunum and Mission Ridge – and with good supply of
local bikers who gave the appearance of hostility after the requisite number of
beers. [21]

There is an improvisatory aspect to SRI’s van test. The inter-network they built was by definition an “amalgam of wire and radio networks”; it was a way of allowing a highly mobile, even ethereal network – packet radio – to tap into a pre-existing, fixed network infrastructure. [22] The van also reveals a third infrastructure that is only implicit: the highways where the researchers in what is now known as Silicon Valley circulated to test their van, which also delighted the bikers and video freaks with whom they mingled. A few miles down the street from Rossotti’s, you could buy a catalog containing Ant Farm’s latest inflatable architecture projects or video schematics from the “Whole Earth Truck Store.” The first node on the inter-media network was a truck stop, or, in the case of SRI, a biker bar.

The two media vans soon went into storage, SRI’s to a forgotten back lot, Ant Farm’s to a bunker in Marin County, California. But the inter-networking protocol tested in 1976, TCP, would cement the growth of what would be christened the “Internet” in 1983, and the networks’ shapes would resemble the possibilities – the freedom of the road, a constantly moving, physically fragmented existence – once offered by the highway. No matter that American highway culture itself had gone into a decline. The potentialities that the highway once represented – the idea of the highway without the highway itself, simultaneously decentralized and yet an infrastructure from the Cold War – remained.

The “information superhighway” articulated a new kind of lifestyle, where media processors could go mobile, feeding information (often in the form of video) back into the cloud. Yet the shift from the media of the van to digital media was not difficult to envision. In “Truckstop Fantasy Number One,” Ant Farm had even mused that “EVENTUALLY WE WILL ABANDON PHYSICAL MOVEMENT FOR TELEPATHIC/CYBERNETIC MOVEMENT (TELEVISION) AND OUR NETWORK WILL ADAPT TO THE CHANGE.” [23] For Ant Farm, computer links were merely one of many forms of communication, and the specific medium (telepathy or television!) was somewhat beside the point. In the bottom of their network diagram for Truckstop, Ant Farm asks: “How many ways do you communicate/inter truckstop.” [24] And then they list “linear” mediums, such as the mail, next to “electronic” mediums (radio and telegraph and computer) and land and aerial transportation mediums (cars, trucks, blimps). A single anomalous dotted line in a mesh network appears to indicate, of all things, a telegraph line.

The inspiration for Truckstop was as much the new technology of the Sony Portapak as the well-worn technology of the postal service. As Chip Lord recalls, “[b]efore we went on the road, we were doing mail art and we tapped into this network of people doing mail art.” [25] Kris Paulsen has additionally uncovered a buried history of guerilla television within its lo-fi distribution network: videographers swapped half-inch videotapes by advertisements and mail order. [26] The point is that cloud computing is always an amalgam – a “network of networks – that can only come into existence when it is not tied to a specific technology. This is why there are multiple clouds in the SRI diagram, and even some internal debate at SRI on how many networks – two or three – are needed before the project can officially be termed an “inter-network.”

To think about digital networks, I am arguing, one must first think about the network in the absence of individual technologies. This is what I have tried to do with the example of the two media vans. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the rhetoric behind the creation of new information structures was certainly overblown; we ignore the utopianism of their claims because they are so sweeping that they are hard to take seriously (Youngblood’s videosphere that envisioned an “Intermedia network” that will unite all media). But we dismiss their rhetoric at our own risk. Strip away the technological layer – the artists’ concern with television, for example – and we see something very similar to what we have now: the digital cloud as a place where all media seem to converge; the cloud as an enabler of supposedly decentralized networked communities. [27] The universalist fantasy of the cloud remains as ubiquitous now as it was forty years ago.

There is a second reason why I have brought the vans into the story. If we only imagine the network as a product of the military, working with their contractors, to “invent” ARPA and the Internet, then the network that we take away is a deeply paranoid one—a vision of nuclear strikes and distributed tanks. There is a hole in that narrative. By their own admission, the engineers at SRI were trying to convince the military that their own interests in packet radio could eventually have a military application. Inside the van were several other projects, including a computer program for encoding speech run by the “Network Speech Compression and Network Skiing Club,” that reflected a more utopian heritage within SRI of using computers to augment human capabilities. Yet the story they told to the military is the one that is inevitably retold by computer historians.

Precisely because many of the claims in the late 1960s and early 1970s are strange—precisely because they are unexplainable – is grounds for why we should embrace them. SRI used a Mickey Mouse phone inside their van to test phone service over the packet network; this research in digital speech resulted in the decidedly un-military Speak & Spell toy for children. Meanwhile, Ant Farm sketched an ink diagram of Television America, its primetime audience re-imagined as a slice of prime – prime meat, that is. In their specificity, in their improvisatory strangeness, they rub against the grain of universalism. A dancing chicken broadcast from the Media Van undercuts any sort of sweeping claims for a new Media America. By their very refusal to be assimilated into useful categories for Internet history, they stake out a space for the autonomy of their production. In contrast to understanding network culture as a paranoid world system, one that encompasses all networks, these weird and unexplainable moments offer the potential for an alternate, reparative reading. [28]

It is unknown whether the video freaks and the network engineers in Portola Valley rubbed shoulders over a beer at Rossotti’s. But there was a rich relationship between the counterculture and computer scientists of the San Francisco Bay Area. Theodore Roszak and John Markoff have identified a shared interest in political dissent, communalist, and consciousness-expanding practices by members of the counterculture and computer researchers living in San Francisco and the Stanford area, respectively. [29] And as Fred Turner has shown, Stewart Brand served as a key hinge between the two worlds, acting as a cameraman during Douglas Engelbart’s 1968 demonstration of personal computing, and a publisher of the seminal Whole Earth Catalog – a kind of World Wide Web in print that indirectly led to the establishment of the Berkeley Homebrew Computer Club. [30]

These histories, however, typically trace inventors and researchers within or on the peripheries of computer science. As I have tried to show, network culture properly resides in a vibrant debate – one that preceded the 1960s, and continues to this day – about the proper configuration between media and power. Computer scientists were a part of this debate, but were not the only ones to weigh in. Years before ARPAnet’s existence, sociologists, urban planners, government bureaucrats, privacy advocates, epidemiologists, computer scientists, and, of course, the aforementioned artists, were keenly aware of the centralizing tendencies of networks. Would the computer network become a “natural monopoly,” like all of their predecessor utilities, asked Baran in a 1966 Congressional hearing, and if so, what steps should we take to set it on the right track?

The answer to Baran’s question had already begun to percolate in the fierce debates over television. Only five years earlier, Newton Minow, the incoming FCC commissioner, warned about television’s monopoly over its viewers in his famous “wasteland” speech by describing the flatness of television: “You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons… And most of all, boredom.” [31] This distaste builds to the commissioner’s larger point: “I am deeply concerned with concentration of power in the hands of the networks.” The network was then, as it is now, a potent manifestation of aesthetic questions. Aesthetic—which is to say political.


1. Paul Edwards, The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997).
2. For more on this myth, which Kazys Varnelis calls the “foundation myth for the Internet,” see Kazys Varnelis, “The Centripetal City: Telecommunications, the Internet, and the Shaping of the Modern Urban Environment,” Cabinet Magazine 17, Spring 2004/2005 and Kazys Varnelis, “Conclusion: The Rise of Network Culture,” in Networked Publics, ed. Kazys Varnelis (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008).
3. What is not in dispute is the complex accumulation of technological innovations, such as Donald Evans’s packet-switching technology and Paul Baran’s writings on link interference at RAND Corporation, that set the stage for a precursor of the Internet, named ARPAnet, after the Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, first deployed in 1969, and the Internet itself, around 1977.
4. John McCarthy, “The Home Information Terminal,” Man and Computer, Proceedings of the International Conference, Bordeaux, 1970, 48-57, Basel: Karger, 1972, reprinted at, June 1, 2000 (accessed 10/2013).
5. Raindance Corporation, no title, in Radical Software 1:1, “The Alternate Television Movement” (1970), 19.
6. David Joselit, “Tale of the Tape,” Artforum, May 2002, 196.
7. Joan Didion, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” originally published in Saturday Evening Post 240:19, September 23, 1967, 25-94.
8. The advent of new media in the late 1960s and early 1970s was felt primarily as the advent of news media—for instance, as new reportage from the 1972 Democratic and Republican National Conventions by the amateur group TVTV (Top Value Television), wielding the new handheld videorecorders named Portapaks. We tend to lose sight of this because a scholarly focus on the specificity of the network’s mediums (its wires or logics or apparatus) has led to its inevitable separation from the network’s media, the sense of mass or communications media. A contemporary scholar studying the newspaper industry may have little to say to a contemporary scholar studying network protocols. But at one point, the two senses of the word were inseparable. In the words of German media theorist Hans Magnus Enzensberger, writing in 1970, “the media are making possible mass participation in a social and socialized productive process, the practical means of which are in the hands of the masses themselves… In its present form, equipment like television or film does not serve communication but prevents it.” Hans Magnus Enzensberger, “Constituents of a Theory of the Media (1970)”, in Video Culture, ed. John Hanhardt (Rochester, NY: Visual Studies Workshop Press, 1986), 98.
9. Examples might include artist Dan Graham’s “feed-forward” cable network (ca. 1972); Austin Community Television (ACTV, 1972-), which fed directly into the cable’s “head-end,” or distribution center; Stan VanDerBeek’s live performance/call-in piece for WGBH-Boston, Violence Sonata (1970); or the Videofreex pirate TV station in the Catskills, Lanesville TV (1972-1977), that attempted to hack or reconfigure the shape of the network system. For further reading, in addition to scholarly studies such as David Joselit’s Feedback: Television Against Democracy (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007), Deirdre Boyle, Subject to Change: Guerrilla Television Revisited (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), there are numerous books by the video collectives themselves, including Michael Shamberg and the Raindance Corporation, Guerrilla Television (New York: Henry Holt & Co., Inc., 1971) and Videofreex, Spaghetti City Video Manual (New York: Praeger, 1973).
10. Ant Farm, “Media Van, Ant Farm Video,” 1970, photocopy, three-hole punched, two pages, in Living Archive 7: Ant Farm, ed. Felicity D. Scott (Barcelona: Actar Publishing, 2008), 224.
11. Steve Seid, “Tunneling through the Wasteland: Ant Farm Video,” in Ant Farm 1968-1978, ed. Constance M. Lewallen (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 25.
12. Jonathan Crary, “Eclipse of the Spectacle,” in Art After Modernism: Rethinking Representation, ed. Brian Wallis (New York: New Museum, 1984), 289.
13. Crary, “Eclipse of the Spectacle,” 290.
14. Kirsten Olds, Networked Collectivities: North American Artists’ Groups, 1968–1978 (Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 2009), 125.
15. Scott, Living Archive 7: Ant Farm, 99.
16. Ant Farm, “Truckstop Network,” in Scott, 226-227; also see Scott, 104.
17. Mark Wasiuta, “Ant Farm Underground.” Cabinet 30, Summer 2008.
18. This reference occurs in Ant Farm’s drawing “3D Truckstop” and is likely a misspelled version of Wendover, Utah, as there is a reference to art being faster if it were situated in neighboring Bonneville Salt Flats, home of the Bonneville Speedway. There is no town named Wendato.
19. Thanks to Finn Brunton for suggesting this idea.
20. Don Nielsen, “The SRI Van and Computer Internetworking,” Core 3:1 (February 2002), a publication of the Computer History Museum, 2-7. Cellular phones use a modified form of packet radio technology to send data. Indeed, some phones continue to use the acronym GPRS, General Packet Radio Service, for this technology.
21. David Retz, “ARPANET, as I Recall,” April 2010, accessed April 15, 2014,
22. Nielsen, “The SRI Van and Computer Internetworking,” 3.
23. Ant Farm, “Truck stop fantasy one,” 1971, in Scott, 174.
24. Ant Farm, “Put Energy into a System You Can Belive In,” 1971, in Scott, 176.
25. Chip Lord and Curtis Schreier, “Media Van – Ant Farm Interview by Jimmy Stamp,” in Floater Magazine 2, “System False,” January 2009, accessed April 15, 2014,
26. Kris Paulsen, “Half-Inch Revolution: The Guerilla Video Tape Network,” in Amodern 2, “Network Archaeology,” October 2013, accessed April 15, 2014,
27. For instance, Friedrich Kittler writes that “a digital base will erase the very concept of medium,” an idea echoed and even expanded by other new media scholars, such as Lev Manovich, subscribing to what might be termed the “convergence hypothesis.” Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1999. 1.
28. My reference to “reparative reading” is from Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, Or, You’re So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Essay Is About You.” In Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 123-151.
29. Theodore Roszak, From Satori to Silicon Valley: San Francisco and the American Counterculture (San Francisco: Don’t Call it Frisco Press, 1986); John Markoff, What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry (New York: Penguin, 2006).
30. Fred Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008).
31. Newton Minow, “Television and the Public Interest,” speech delivered 9 May 1961, National Association of Broadcasters, Washington, DC.


Tung-Hui Hu is the author of Cloud: A Pre-History, forthcoming from MIT Press in 2015, from which this essay is taken, as well as three books of poetry, most recently Greenhouses, Lighthouses (Copper Canyon Press, 2013). Recent publications include articles on real time (in Discourse: Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and Culture) and digital poetics (in Acts + Encounters, UCSC Poetry and Politics imprint). He teaches at the University of Michigan, where he co-organizes the Digital Environments Cluster.