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

How Not to Network a Nation
Hardcover | $38.00 Short | £28.95 | ISBN: 9780262034180 | 312 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 23 b&w illus.| March 2016

eBook | $27.00 Short | ISBN: 9780262334174 | 312 pp. | 23 b&w illus.| April 2016

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Awarded the 2017 Vucinich Book Prize for “the most important contribution to the [Slavic studies] field in any discipline of the humanities or social sciences”
Awarded the 2018 Computer History Museum Prize for “a pathbreaking contribution to the understanding of the history of computing and networking.”
 a 2017 PROSE Award Notable Mention in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine
 in 20th-anniversary issue of First Monday.
Featured in Aeon 


Between 1959 and 1989, Soviet scientists and officials made numerous attempts to network their nation—to construct a nationwide computer network. None of these attempts succeeded, and the enterprise had been abandoned by the time the Soviet Union fell apart. Meanwhile, ARPANET, the American precursor to the Internet, went online in 1969. Why did the Soviet network, with top-level scientists and patriotic incentives, fail while the American network succeeded? In How Not to Network a Nation, Benjamin Peters reverses the usual cold war dualities and argues that the American ARPANET took shape thanks to well-managed state subsidies and collaborative research environments and the Soviet network projects stumbled because of unregulated competition among self-interested institutions, bureaucrats, and others. The capitalists behaved like socialists while the socialists behaved like capitalists.

After examining the midcentury rise of cybernetics, the science of self-governing systems, and the emergence in the Soviet Union of economic cybernetics, Peters complicates this uneasy role reversal while chronicling the various Soviet attempts to build a “unified information network.” Drawing on previously unknown archival and historical materials, he focuses on the final, and most ambitious of these projects, the All-State Automated System of Management (OGAS), and its principal promoter, Viktor M. Glushkov. Peters describes the rise and fall of OGAS—its theoretical and practical reach, its vision of a national economy managed by network, the bureaucratic obstacles it encountered, and the institutional stalemate that killed it. Finally, he considers the implications of the Soviet experience for today’s networked world.

Endorsements & Reviews

“Benjamin Peters’s book is not only a scintillating explanation of why the Soviet Internet failed to materialize but also a first-rate sociopolitical investigative report and a delicious tale of how Soviet efforts to manage a command economy left them without either command or an economy.”

Todd Gitlin, Professor and Chair, PhD Program in Communications, Columbia University; author of Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our Lives

“Peters offers a compelling account of the Soviet Union’s failed attempts to construct their own Internet during the Cold War period. How Not to Network a Nation fills an important gap in the Internet’s history, highlighting the ways in which generativity and openness have been essential to networked innovation.”

Jonathan Zittrain, Professor of Law and Computer Science, Harvard University; Director, Berkman Center for Internet & Society

“As early as 1962, cybernetics experts in the Soviet Union proposed a complex, large-scale computer network. It fit with a socialist vision but not with bureaucratic politics and a faltering command economy. It was never realized, but the story sheds light both on Soviet history and on the social conditions that shape computing and communications networks. It is a previously unknown story, now elegantly told by Benjamin Peters together with a thoughtful analysis that makes the early history of computing seem full of possibilities not obvious.”

Craig Calhoun, FBA, Director and President, London School of Economics and Political Science

“[Peters’] quarry is the great white whale of this specialized historiography: the Soviet Internet.”

Michael Gordin, Nature

“Peters has written the definitive narrative on the topic. For those looking to understand the Communist mindset in an information technology perspective, How Not to Network a Nation: The Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet is an interesting read.”

Ben Rothke, RSA

“An immersive read that covers the ground in impressive detail.”

John Gilbey, Times Higher Education

“A great set of stories…a fantastic storyteller… really pleasurable.”

Carla Nappi, New Books Network

“The story of how Peters tracked down this and other facts is almost a Cold War thriller itself…. a cautionary tale for those tasked with building the networks of tomorrow.”

Dominic Lenton, Engineering & Technology

“A new and intriguing book… Anyone interested in the history of the internet, comparative systems, or the history of the Soviet Union should read this book.”

—Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolutions


David Strom, network expert

“And so: the Internyet.”

Stephen J. Dubner, Freakonomics

Your Computer is on Fire

Paperback | $35.00 | ISBN: 9780262539739
| 416 pp. | 7 x 9 in | 24 b&w illus.| March 2021
Purchase at Amazon | Amazon Author Page

Awarded Strategy & Business Best Business Books 2021
Selected Public Books 2021 Picks


Techno-utopianism is dead: Now is the time to pay attention to the inequality, marginalization, and biases woven into our technological systems.

This book sounds an alarm: after decades of being lulled into complacency by narratives of technological utopianism and neutrality, people are waking up to the large-scale consequences of Silicon Valley–led technophilia. This book trains a spotlight on the inequality, marginalization, and biases in our technological systems, showing how they are not just minor bugs to be patched, but part and parcel of ideas that assume technology can fix—and control—society.

The essays in Your Computer Is on Fire interrogate how our human and computational infrastructures overlap, showing why technologies that centralize power tend to weaken democracy. These practices are often kept out of sight until it is too late to question the costs of how they shape society. From energy-hungry server farms to racist and sexist algorithms, the digital is always IRL, with everything that happens algorithmically or online influencing our offline lives as well. Each essay proposes paths for action to understand and solve technological problems that are often ignored or misunderstood.


Janet Abbate, Ben Allen, Paul N. Edwards, Nathan Ensmenger, Mar Hicks, Halcyon M. Lawrence, Thomas S. Mullaney, Safiya Umoja Noble, Benjamin Peters, Kavita Philip, Sarah T. Roberts, Sreela Sarkar, Corinna Schlombs, Andrea Stanton, Mitali Thakor, Noah Wardrip-Fruin

Book Editors

Thomas Mullaney, Benjamin Peters, Mar Hicks, Kavita Philip

Endorsements & Reviews

“The collection of impactful tech issues interrogated over the span of decades in this book makes it recommended reading for anyone interested in the impact of tech policy in businesses and governments, as well as people deploying AI or interested in the way people shape technology.”

Khari Johnson, VentureBeat

“Technology is so embedded in our lives that we can sometimes forget it is there at all. Your Computer is on Fire is a vital reminder not only of its presence, but that we urgently need to extinguish the problems associated with it.”

New Scientist

“The book tech critics and organizers have been waiting for.”

Tamara Kneese, Los Angeles Review of Books

“An all-star collection of readable and complex stories, all aimed at ensuring the naive view of neutral technology gets buried and, please, left in the past.”

Public Books

“The authors fearlessly dismantle the technology industry’s most sacred assumptions, forcing a rethinking of everything we’ve come to accept as true about our digital lives and the multibillion-dollar digital transformations going on inside our companies. Titles such as ‘Gender Is a Corporate Tool,’ ‘A Network Is Not a Network,’ and ‘Coding Is Not Empowerment’ pull no punches.”

Strategy and Business

“A compelling case for the value of the humanities – and of history, in particular – in offering us a critical perspective to challenge the fantasies of genius innovators and streamlined progress.”

Times Literary Supplement

Digital Keywords: A Vocabulary of Information Society and Culture

Paperback | 2016 | $24.95 | £18.95 | ISBN: 9780691167343
Hardcover | 2016 | $70.00 | £51.95 | ISBN: 9780691167336
352 pp. | 6 x 9 | 3 halftones. 1 table.
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400880553 |
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Reviews | Table of Contents
Introduction[PDF] pdf-icon
555 Questions to Make Digital Keywords Harder: A Teaching Resource
Finalist for the 2017 Susanne K. Langer Award for Outstanding Scholarship in the Ecology of Symbolic Form, Media Ecology Association

Google full text of this book:

A Q&A with Benjamin Peters

In the age of search, keywords increasingly organize research, teaching, and even thought itself. Inspired by Raymond Williams’s 1976 classic Keywords, the timely collection Digital Keywords gathers pointed, provocative short essays on more than two dozen keywords by leading and rising digital media scholars from the areas of anthropology, digital humanities, history, political science, philosophy, religious studies, rhetoric, science and technology studies, and sociology. Digital Keywords examines and critiques the rich lexicon animating the emerging field of digital studies.

This collection broadens our understanding of how we talk about the modern world, particularly of the vocabulary at work in information technologies. Contributors scrutinize each keyword independently: for example, the recent pairing of digitalandanalog is separated, while classic terms such as community, culture, event, memory, and democracy are treated in light of their historical and intellectual importance. Metaphors of the cloud in cloud computing and the mirror in data mirroring combine with recent and radical uses of terms such as information, sharing, gaming, algorithm, and internet to reveal previously hidden insights into contemporary life. Bookended by a critical introduction and a list of over two hundred other digital keywords, these essays provide concise, compelling arguments about our current mediated condition.

Digital Keywords delves into what language does in today’s information revolution and why it matters.

Endorsements & Reviews

Digital Keywords interrogates some of the words at the center of our socio-technical world, revealing the way in which the digital has reconfigured culture. This inspiring book is essential for all who are trying to understand our contemporary mediated society. It’s a pure delight for anyone who hasn’t stopped to think about the power of these words.”

Danah Boyd, founder of Data & Society and author of It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens

Digital Keywords is fascinating, erudite, informative, and delightful. This is a cabinet of present-day wonders to which I’m sure I’ll return many times.”

Todd Gitlin, Columbia University

“The distinguished contributors of Digital Keywords analyze the ways language has changed as a result of the digital revolution. The result is an engaging and readable tour through important concepts in scholarly debate and public discourse.”

Daniel Kreiss, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

“Now, 40 years after Williams began the journey into the politics and culture behind language, his work has been continued – and readapted for the 21st century – in a book that seeks to carry on where he left off, by digging out the roots of digital language and discovering how it has shaped the newfound society we live in today…. with the release of this book, the digital language journey is just getting started. ‘Digital Keywords’ serves as an in-depth interrogation of the meaning and development of digitised language, and strives to reveal the way in which the digital has reshaped society and rewritten culture. You can learn a lot about society from language, and those wishing to gain a deeper understanding of the modern, digital world we all inhabit would be well advised to begin by taking a look at this book. Just as ‘Keywords’ made its way firmly onto reference shelves in the 1970s, so too will ‘Digital Keywords’ today.”

Jade Fell, Engineering & Technology


Peer-Reviewed Publications (Articles & Chapters)

Scholarly Reviews

Other Publications (Commissioned & Not Peer-Reviewed)

Publicity and Coverage of Major Works

Peters, Benjamin. How Not to Network a Nation: The Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet. The MIT Press, April 2016.

Mullaney, Thomas, Benjamin Peters, Mar Hicks, Kavita Philip, eds. Your Computer is on Fire. The MIT Press, March 2021.

Peters, Benjamin, ed. Digital Keywords: A Vocabulary of Information Society and Culture. Princeton University Press, June 2016.


Peters, Benjamin. (2010.) “From Cybernetics to Cyber Networks: Norbert Wiener, the Soviet Internet, and the Cold War Dawn of Information Universalism.” Dissertation. New York, Columbia University. (Abstract: Available in full upon request.)



Graduate Students & Postdoc Advising 

  • Xuenan Cao, Postdoctorate candidate in East Asian Literature & Languages, Yale University, 2022. External manuscript examiner. Currently employed on the tenure-track at the University of Hong Kong.

  • Anna Kalinina, MA candidate in Medienwissenschaften, Leuphana University, 2022. Thesis committee member and outside reader.

  • Bo An, PhD candidate in East Asian Languages & Literatures, Yale University, 2021. External Dissertation Prize examiner. Currently postdoc at Harvard.

  • Carlotta Chenoweth, PhD candidate in Slavic Languages & Literature, Yale University, 2020. Committee member. Currently employed on the tenure-track at West Point.

  • Scott Brennen, PhD in Communication, University of North Carolina, 2018. Committee member. Postdoctoral researcher at Oxford University, 2018-2021.

  • Kent Emerson, PhD in English, the University of Tulsa, 2012-2016.


Assistant-Associate Professor, Media Studies, the University of Tulsa, Fall 2011-Present

  • Cyber & Society: Spring 2022. Upper-level elective for Media Studies & requirement for Cyber Security majors.

  • Internship: Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2021, Spring 2021, Spring 2022. Upper-level internship course for Media Studies majors.
  • Your Computer is on Fire: Fall 2020. Senior-level elective seminar for Media Studies majors.
  • Digital Media Studies: Spring 2016. Senior-level elective seminar for Media Studies majors.
  • Senior Project: Fall 2019. Independent capstone projects for all Media Studies seniors.
  • Media Theories (Theories of Communication): Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022. Required sophomore-level course for the major
  • Inquiry in Media Studies: Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2020, Fall 2021. Required sophomore-level major course on mixed research methods
  • Communication Technology & Society: Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Fall 2019. Required sophomore-level course and general education elective.
  • Introduction to Media Studies: “Communication Systems”: Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021. Required introduction to the major
  • Cyber Culture since 1945: Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2017, Spring 2018. Concluding “contemporary issues” seminar in Honors program curriculum.
  • Global Media: Spring 2016. Junior-level Communication major and general education elective.

Visiting Assistant Professor, Hebrew University

  • Understanding Media (between Nature and Culture): Winter break 2012-2013. Intensive doctoral seminar co-taught with John Durham Peters.

Postdoctoral Instructor, Hebrew University

  • Networks: Science, Technology, and Society: Spring 2011. Junior-level seminar for Communication & Journalism major.
  • The Cybernetic Front: Digital Media and the Cold War: Fall 2010. Communication doctoral seminar.

Adjunct Faculty, New York University, Media, Communication, & Culture

  • Mass Persuasion and Propaganda: Fall 2009. Junior-level seminar elective

Adjunct Faculty, Salt Lake Community College

  • Elements of Effective Communication: Summer 2006. Introduction to Communication major.

Adjunct Faculty, Brigham Young University

  • Research Methods in Communication: Summer 2006. Co-led with Abraham Gong the statistics lab component.

Sample Independent Study Courses

  • 2022 Wes Addington “Documentary, Philosophy, Art”
  • 2021 Josh Johnson “Social Media & Sports”
  • 2020 Brandan Moore: “Russian Hackers”
  • 2018 Helen Clara Ard: “French Theory”
  • 2018 Carlie Wisley: “Feminism & Media Ethnography”
  • 2017 Jesse Haynes: “Podcasts & Audio Production”
  • 2017 Alex Isaak: “Marine Media Theory”
  • 2017 Megan Lee: “Prosthetics & Media Theory”
  • 2016 Haley Anderson: “Media & International Development”
  • 2015 Franzi Voellinger: “Sports Media Economics”
  • 2014 Hope Forsyth: “Sound and Symbol Studies”
  • 2014 Rachel Johnson: “Reference Sciences from Footnotes to Databases”
  • 2013 Steven Schrag: “Critical Digital Studies”

Sample Undergraduate Student Advising

  • 2018 Ryan Starkweather, Awarded US Thomas Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship.
  • 2018 Alex Garfollo, Fulbright Fellowship to Siberia, Russia.
  • 2018 Rachel Wolf, TURC fellow, US National Security Boren Fellowship to Kazakhstan


Student Evaluations: Average overall teaching evaluation rating (out of 5): quality of course 4.4 and of instructor 4.7

Teaching Awards

  • Outstanding Teaching Award, lifetime career award, top 1% of teachers campus-wide, University of Tulsa, 2023 (nominated 2019, 2022).
  • Most Valuable Professor award, eleven times over Fall 2013, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2022, Spring 2014.

Curriculum Vitae

Click here to download a copy of my CV
(last updated July 2023)



A media scholar and author, I write and teach on how media technologies change over regimes of time, space, and power. My work takes critical, historical, and global approaches to that basic puzzle of why media in general, and digital media in particular, take hold differently in different contexts. I am particularly concerned with how and why media technologies distribute and concentrate power and knowledge unevenly–and what to do about it.

My area of research focuses on the causes and consequences of the information age across the Soviet century, especially between the Berlin Wall and the Chinese Firewall with an epicenter in Kyiv. I have authored or am authoring book projects of the Soviet internet, artificial intelligence, and Russian hackers, broadly understood. I am also finishing a short self-help book called Letters to a Young College Student.

On a more personal note, I have developed these interests over the last two decades alongside Kourtney Lambert, who is, in addition to so much else, an incandescent math teacher, rising data scientist, and alumna of Columbia’s Teachers College. Together we luxuriate in learning languages, sampling cuisines, and geeking out. Kourtney chronicles the occasional antic on her blog.

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