The WELL of Work

by astanhaus

Writer’s note: originally submitted for McGill University’s New Media class with Professor Caroline Bem.

     Ever so relevant in this social networking dependent era, Fred Turner’s “Where the Counterculture Met the New Economy” documents the phenomenon of the Whole Earth Catalog and subsequently the WELL. Turner describes the network forum aspects of the Whole Earth Catalog, as it “both depicted the products of an emerging counterculture and linked the scattered members of that culture to one another.”[1] The network forum of the Whole Earth Catalog would become a virtual network, the WELL. LinkedIn’s groups and discussions are analogous to the WELL’s conferences and topics; LinkedIn improves on the WELL’s networking capabilities with user profiles and job postings. Virtual networking for work is now not limited to just the countercultural WELL subscribers, but now includes mainstream LinkedIn users.

            The Whole Earth Catalog was a useful network forum for those with counter cultural leanings because it was both a boundary object and trading zone. Turner explains, “like the boundary object, [The Whole Earth Catalog] was a media formation around which individuals gathered and collaborated without relinquishing their attachment to their home networks. But like the trading zone, it was also a place within which new networks were built, not only for social purposes but also for the purpose of accomplishing work.”[2] The WELL would build on these properties, as Turner describes, the WELL “translated a countercultural vision of the proper relationship between technology and sociability into a resource for imagining and managing life in the network economy.”[3] Turner notes the drastic change of company structure in the 1980’s, “hierarchical firms…reorganized themselves as project-oriented networks.”[4] The benefit of networking on the WELL is “even as one’s employer changed one’s employment could hold stable.”[5] In the 21st century, LinkedIn would become the  boundary object and trading zone of choice for professionals.

Once an account is activated,  a LinkedIn account holder can document their expertise, connect and virtually network by interacting through groups. LinkedIn’s groups are similar to the WELL’s conferences.[6] Within a group, there are discussions–analogous to the WELL’s topics–where users can comment or like a discussion.[7] LinkedIn gives users the ability to widen one’s sphere of influence through interactions over its professional network.

LinkedIn’s improvements to the WELL include user profiles and job postings. By interacting on the WELL, personal reputations, with respect to know-how, prose technique, taste, charisma, personality and style, were created.[8] Active LinkedIn users can similarly build a virtual reputation. But even non-frequent LinkedIn users build a reputation by documenting their industry, education, location, current/previous jobs/employers,  skills/expertise etc. on their profile. If a profile is full of keywords, then networking capabilities are only limited to the voracious search capabilities of recruiters. Furthermore, LinkedIn recommends jobs in corresponding career fields, to which users can apply through the website  and include their profile in their application. LinkedIn is of course not the only 21st century social network to build off of the WELL. But LinkedIn has built on the main take away from the WELL, namely finding work by virtually networking.

[1] Fred Turner, “Where the Counterculture Met the New Economy: The WELL and the Origins of Virtual Community,” Technology and Culture, vol. 46 (July 2006):489.

[2] Ibid, 490.

[3]  Ibid, 491.

[4] Ibid, 504.

[5] Ibid, 505.

[6] Ibid, 499.

[7] Ibid.

[8]  Ibid, 507.

(Originally submitted for Amanda Stanhaus’s New Media Communications course  with  Caroline Bem.)