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I got into an online conversation today with @Gennefer on the topic that the 60's social movement makes a great metaphor for the way we use the Internet today. It's not just the easy access to sex, drugs and illegal music, but also the way social networks are creating awareness of social issues and promoting art and culture outside the establishment.
As we tossed our 140 character comments back and forth, it occurred to me that the it's not the Internet that needs a metaphor, but the way communication and information changes society.
There have been a few really great communications revolutions that have been followed by huge sociological shifts. Sea travel, which brought not only goods from far away, but new ways of thinking and doing things (including the recipe for gunpowder) is often overlooked as a communications revolution, but it was the knowledge traders brought back that started the Renaissance much more than the goods themselves.
Not overlooked is movable type -- without the printing press to get his message out, Martin Luther would have just been another priest strung up to a wall somewhere and the Catholic Church would still be the only church for Christians, and a hugely corrupt power, at that.
We still romanticize the Pony Express, but it was really the telegraph that cemented so much of the North American continent as a future world power. And, of course, the telegraph was quickly followed by radio and then television rapidly making the world smaller, creating a more homogeneous culture with national advertising and even changing the way we talk by smoothing out regional accents and dialects.
What really made the 60's such a watershed time was a huge population of people all about the same age spawned from a post-war baby boom. Ironically, these kids were the first to be raised by TV and shared a lot of the same ideas and ideals and culture not from their families but from TV and the toys and commercial products they grew up with.
And they could find each other more easily than ever before. TV news was maturing and spreading the word about things like Woodstock or marches in Washington. It's not just that they could get their message out more easily (this was the dawn of self-publishing with cheap mimeographs and copiers coming on the scene), it's that they all spoke the same message and learned that message faster than their elders.
All of which is true with the Internet. The Internet is quickly helping to homogenize culture on a global scale, although it's not as if the "Internet" is a single medium -- television, movies, blogs, advertising, casual interactions online, and the fact we all use the same basic stuff every day give us common ground to start a conversation. And all these little interactions take us a step closer to a global culture, which is definitely one of the biggest revolutions we've seen.
Just as the stuffed shirts in the 60s tried to mimic or co-opt the "youth culture" stuffed shirts (and not so stuffed) are trying to do the same today. It's too big even with our multi-national global companies supplying so much of this revolutionary culture, it's not the things or even the individuals driving this revolution, it's just the unchecked speed of communication.
Mark: Re: The Internet is the New 60's
I'm glad I followed the link from your tweet. I've been feeling the same way for a long time, a sense of wonder mixed with dread, but wasn't able to put a label so succinct as 'the new 60's' on it. No wonder we have so many old fools like John Hagee up in arms - it's the next wave in cultural evolution! Of course, the real question is, can we harness this new power and use it for good, or will we fall into the same patterns of abuse as our forebears?
Michael Bissell: Re: The Internet is the New 60's
Mark: What I think is interesting with the the radical voices like John Hagee or Glenn Beck is that they are just part of the noise -- it's the fact we get to hear all the noise now that makes things different.
I'm optimistic in the long run although very cynical in the short term. Each of these revolutions I mentioned has left the world a little more mature, a little more aware of a bigger picture, and a little freer of the darkness and oppression that happens when people are clueless.
That short term though... yeah, there are a lot of beheadings, shootings and imprisonments on the way to universal enlightenment.
Helen Klein Ross: Re: The Internet is the New 60's
Love the title, Michael. Great analogy. Agree that webz have contributed to mass homgenization, for better or worse. It's why you're now more likely to identify with someone of your "consumer class" half a world away than you might with others in your hometown.
Only quibble: illegal music wasn't half as easy to come by in the 60s. Vinyl albums were a lot harder to pirate. Most people had to pony up $3 for a new release. That is, if album was mono. Stereo cost a dollar extra!