"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 28 January 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Be-In Digital



The '60s have been used to hawk

everything from arty neckties to

frozen treats, so it should come

as no surprise that idealized

imagery of the Day-Glo Decade

has been selling the digital

revolution as well. Technopagans

mumble that the


corporate-owned Internet will

somehow empower the masses

against The Man, and

pseudopundits play up

cyberculture's alleged affinity

to the summer of love. It's

happening in San Francisco,

parents just don't get it, and

Timothy Leary is somehow

involved. The parallel plays so

well in Peoria that most critics

overlook the fact that the

digital revolution's less

scrupulous foot soldiers push

PointCast, not bad acid (though

there's some of that, too).


Those of us driven away from the

WELL by endless discussion of

the Dead can attest that both

movements have similarities:

Poorly dressed middle-class

kids move to the Bay Area and

get plenty of overheated media

attention without actually

accomplishing much. Still, the

implied comparison comes off

less as a sociology lesson than

a way to imbue IPOs with some

sort of social significance.



One would think that Webstock's

failure to lend hanging out in a

chat room an aura of

countercultural cool might have

prevented further folly, but the

real nadir of nostalgia is as

perennial as a bad trip: San

Francisco's annual Digital

Be-In. Billed as an attempt to

recreate the "free and unifying

glory of December 1967" - for

$10 - the sub-par pseudorave,

which was held in a San

Francisco art gallery, expanded

wallets rather than

consciousnesses. We expected an

endless array of souvenir

salesmen, and yes, Jerry Rubin

invented the kind of networking

machine that made Jon Katz, if

not Bill Gates possible; but the

sheer volume of business cards

changing hands was nothing short

of astounding. Make profit, not

war, right? But if those $3

smart drinks were the real

thing, how come nobody realized

how ridiculous they looked?



Be-In organizer Michael Gosney

justifies this hypertext link to

the past by claiming to

sympathetic comrades at San

Francisco Bay Guardian that

hippies invented the Net - or at

least the mindset that made it

possible. While we've always

admired the way our elders

appropriated everything from

meditation to the sitar, we're

pretty sure the Net was a

product of that darn

military-industrial complex.

Sure, Steves Jobs and Wozniak

may have had pronounced hippie

tendencies, but - US Festival

aside - they quickly became

capitalists to the core. John

Perry Barlow may have made his

name as a second-string lyricist

for the Grateful Dead, but that

doesn't mean more than a handful

of people share his


philosophy. Or, for that matter,

that it makes any sense.


Then again, the CIA did give

us acid. MK-ULTRA, look it up.


[That Kinko's Guy]

We're not sure if Howard

Rheingold's online gathering of

the tribes actually constitutes

a virtual community. After all,

Rheingold spends the better part

(and by "better", we mean

"most") of a book being wowed by

the fact that the mostly

upper-middle-class white people

who populate the WELL have so

much in common. However,

Electric Minds' pitch to Digital

Be-In types is as loud as

Rheingold's wardrobe. While the

site probably borrows more from

Woodstock's brand-based

marketing than the festival

itself, why miss a chance to

evoke imagery so powerful it

transforms a romp in a muddy

field into an important cultural

event? Say it with flower power.



Timothy Leary's 1967 comment that

the Human Be-In 1.0 generated a

"momentum which must not be

lost" points up the one key

concept Net culture did take

from the hippies: the belief

that you can gather large

numbers of people in one place

and charge them to entertain one

another. Inflated new media

rhetoric aside, sites like

Rheingold's Electric Minds are a

lot like Dead shows - the

content is uneven and the real

entertainment comes from hanging

out with everyone else who shows

up. And in their biggest

evolutionary leap forward from

the Age of Aquarius, the

neohippies have, by using an

advertising-based business model,

made even gate-crashers part of

the profit margin.


[Steal This Image]

Which brings us to why this whole

slouching-toward-SOMA thing

ticks us off. The hypertext

hippies can't be blamed for

wanting to trade love beads for

wampum - hell, that's been the

name of the game since Abbie

Hoffman put a price sticker on

dissent. What's disturbing about

this particular instant karma

replay is as familiar as hearing

the Doors in an elevator: Our

elders haven't learned from our mistakes,

much less theirs. It's not the

selling out that bugs us - it's

that they're not doing a better

job of it.

courtesy of Dr. Dreidel


Dr. Dreidel