rebecca l. eisenberg on Sun, 11 May 1997 23:23:50 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Tune In, Drop Out: the "hippie=raver?" equation at theJanuary, 1997 Digital Be-In.

[This piece originally written for David Hudson's REWIRED: Journal of a
Strained Net,]

"tune in, turn on, drop out"
January 20th, 1997

                      by Rebecca L. Eisenberg

                      As much as we new media types try to
                      deny it, history will find a way to
                      repeat itself. And like most bad
                      movies, it is never as good the
                      second time around.

                      Nothing could provide better evidence
                      of this inevitability than the recent
                      celebration in San Francisco of the
                      30th anniversary of the Human Be-In.

                      The original and Human Be-In,
                      according to its organizers, Allen
                      Cohen and Michael Bowen, was a
                      "gathering of the tribes" in order to
                      unite the philosophically opposed
                      factions of the San Francisco
                      hedonistic hippies and the violently
                      confrontational Berkeley activists
                      and join them together to create a
                      new kind of political activism. On
                      January 14, 1967, 30,000
                      counter-culturalists and radicals
                      converged in Golden Gate Park in
                      order to "meet minds" and "question
                      authority." With Timothy Leary at the
                      helm, they "turned on, tuned in, and
                      dropped out," and a revolution - (of
                      sorts) - was in motion.

                      But thirty years later, in the
                      gentrified South of Market San
                      Francisco district, free love is
                      tired, and folk music, passe. In the
                      all-out-for-ourselves internet
                      universe, there are no feuding
                      factions to unite, no Victorian
                      social enforcers to rebel against,
                      and, as to the censorship-happy
                      federal government to oppose - well,
                      we did that last year.

                      Fortunately, memes can be bent, and,
                      in the eyes of the
                      neuvo-Leary-cum-cybernauts, personal
                      computers replace water pipes,
                      bandwidth replaces parkgrounds, and
                      ascii and html serve as fine pixels
                      of Electronic LSD. And thus the idea
                      of the 9th Annual Digital Be-In was

                      A Digital Be-In, they discovered,
                      could be more than a corporate-backed
                      showcase of electronic art, providing
                      little service beyond an opportunity
                      for high-tech corporations from Silly
                      Valley a chance to drive north to
                      market their wares.

                      This year's more mature Digital Be-In
                      remembered its roots: it selected a
                      political theme, and invited the
                      world by means of a netcast. It
                      promised to celebrate "Cultural
                      Diversity in Cyberspace." In an
                      industry notorious for its domination
                      by white males, Be-In '97 had the
                      right idea.

                      But it had the wrong audience.

                      Although Jerry Brown was passionate
                      when describing his new grass roots
                      digital effort, and Delores Huerta
                      pointed all to the internet-based
                      Strawberry workers campaign, the
                      congregation consisted primarily of
                      the choir. Had there only been some
                      20-somethings in the crowd before
                      midnight, the event might actually
                      have produced the impression that the
                      high tech slackerati do care about
                      their fellow humans, and not just
                      about controlling their joystick and
                      their next bag of shrimp chips.

                      So where were those Gen-Xers, the
                      voice of tomorrow?

                      Perhaps following too closely the
                      words of deceased utopian Leary to
                      "think for themselves," most of the
                      20-somethings stayed home for the
                      speeches and saved their arrival for
                      the beginning of "seminars" - the
                      Be-In buzzwords for "musical

                      The only thing that should be
                      surprising is that anyone would be

                      We live in an age where
                      new-media-philes and
                      digital-proto-pundits declare ad
                      nauseam the arrival of an Internet
                      "Revolution" - where freedom reigns
                      supreme in the universal aether
                      playground and memes flow and mutute
                      freely from hub to shining hub. But
                      "revolution" necessarily implies
                      change, and change requires action -
                      hardly the first priority on the
                      to-do list of the post-political
                      dissatisfied slackerati.

                      The true digividual thinks for
                      herself - and stands up to
                      authorities like the "PC Police" -
                      who order them to integrate their
                      start-ups. In right-leaning
                      anarchism, diversity flows from each
                      person stepping up to bat; nevermind
                      those farm workers, nevermind the
                      technologically lacking.

                      "But we are rebelling against the
                      Man!" type the web slingers into
                      their java-based chat forums, surfing
                      the weather pages and selecting their
                      rave gear. Why take part in politics?
                      Taking a stand is so "PC." And
                      organizing a movement is so

                      Instead, water bottles in hand,
                      backpacks in tow, they toss on their
                      mini-shirts and baggie slacks, and
                      celebrate themselves to the tune of
                      repetitive drumbeat techno while neon
                      and digital vrml-like patterns splash
                      and spin on screens and walls:
                      "self... selfless... self...

                      They form a community alright, but do
                      not take it to arms. Where "selfless"
                      meant "for the good of us all," it
                      now means "unattached to ourselves."
                      To hell with the fact that nothing
                      would better satisfy the "authority"
                      they bemoan than their community of
                      dopey-eyed teenytshirt-wearing
                      blowpop-sucking pixel pushers,
                      "dropping out" before "tuning in."

                      Do not get me wrong. I like a good
                      party as much as the next
                      20-something. And I too enjoy the
                      thrill of events where if the "Man"
                      and his corporate subsidiaries bring
                      the lasers flashing leftist
                      propaganda while new agers and other
                      addicts smoke norcal outdoor greenbud
                      out of glass pipes.

                      As Emma Goldman put it, "If I can't
                      dance, I don't want your revolution."

                      But make no mistake: this is not a
                      revolution. This is nothing more than
                      a party.

                      We have the free speech. Now somebody
                      ... please talk.

 Rebecca L. Eisenberg 1997 All Rights Reserved


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