As a hard-core rock and roll fan, one of my greatest regrets in life is being born in 1970—10 months after Woodstock. I like to believe that I’d’ve convinced mom and dad to drag me to Bethel in my diapers had I caught whiff of the collection of stars—-and hundreds of thousands of likeminded rockers—gathering at Max Yasgur’s farm.
Being a Buffalo boy, it wouldn’t have even been that long of a drive!
Within weeks of Jimi and Janis performing for a generation, historians, scholars and reporters started to recognize that something far more powerful than a simple concert had happened during those three days in August of 1969. Look at how Time Magazine described the event:
The baffling history of mankind is full of obvious turning points and significant events: battles won, treaties signed, rulers elected or disposed, and now seemingly, planets conquered.
Equally important are the great groundswells of popular movements that affect the minds and values of a generation or more, not all of which can be neatly tied to a time or place. Looking back on the America of the ‘60s, future historians may well search for the meaning of [Woodstock].
–Time Magazine, August 29, 1969
And Woodstock certainly changed the minds and values of a generation, didn’t it? A nation once defined by cold materialism and the quest for the kind of individual success and perfection memorialized by Ward and June Cleaver finally had a tangible expression of the very human desire to connect and to cooperate.
This value shift was on public display in the trial of Abbie Hoffman, a full-fledged hippie who was charged with conspiracy and inciting a riot for his role in the mayhem that broke lose during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
Asked to identify himself and his residence for the official court transcript during his trial, Hoffman’s reply left traditional America baffled:
“My name is Abbie. I am an orphan of America. I live in Woodstock Nation…a nation of alienated young people. We carry it around with us as a state of mind…
It is a nation dedicated to cooperation versus competition, to the idea that people should have better means of exchange than property or money, that there should be some other basis for human interaction…
It does not consist of property or materials, but, rather, of ideas and certain values.”
Looking back through the lens of history makes me wonder whether or not the attitudes and values alive in Woodstock Nation have had an impact on the developmental arc of social technologies.
Is is possible that the sense of alienation and commitment to cooperation instead of competition so obviously evident in the fields of Bethel have somehow birthed the kinds of tools that we use today to connect and to communicate across boundaries?
Are some of Woodstock’s children—-or grandchildren—-sitting behind computers looking for ways to recreate the sense of synergy felt by their fathers and brothers and friends who lived through the idea revolution of the ‘60s and ‘70s?
After all, we really do live in a world of digital Woodstocks, don’t we? Hundreds of thousands of people gather online to protest, to celebrate, to connect, to communicate, to share ideas, and to simply share a sense of togetherness and mission every single day.
Iranians frustrated with their governments gather cell phones and sign in to Twitter accounts to make their protests public—-and they’re supported by Scandinavian allies half of a world away. Burma’s monks, professors and students decide to stand up to a repressive regime and send images, video and instant reports across the internet, causing international uprisings.
Even kids are recognizing the power of digital action and their own roles as global citizens committed to cooperation. When wildfires destroyed Australia and teacher-blogger Jenny Luca sent out a plea for help in rebuilding schools, mini-activists from several continents—-including my own classroom—-joined together as a nation of individuals built from shared values to raise funds together.
There are kids using digital tools to work together on projects to raise awareness about abuse in Darfur and to end child slavery. Other students are using digital tools to provide lighting to third-world countries, to provide Kenyan girls with access to an education, and to make microloans to entrepreneurs around the world.
There’s got to be some kind of connection between today’s collective actions and yesterday’s rock-and-roll ‘turning point,’ doesn’t there?
Is it really possible that the feelings that welled up 40-years ago in the world’s most famous cow pasture aren’t alive in the hearts and minds of people who are finding ways to use social software to express a commitment to and concern for humans that they’ve never met but that they respect and appreciate?
Either way, I’m just jazzed that I can take global action—-to be a resident of Woodstock Nation—-from my couch!
The cold mud and constant rains would have gotten old.