The New Hallucinogens

This millenial “New Age” aspect of what we’re now calling Web 2.0 was a big feature of Kevin Kelly’s August 2005 Wired article, We Are the Web, which provoked Nicholas Carr’s stinging rebuttal, The Amorality of Web 2.0. Roger Magoulas, the director of O’Reilly Research, has another take on the same subject. He wrote in email:

“I’ve been taking care of a neighbor’s cat, and while waiting for the cat to return one night I did something I don’t normally have time to do – speed remoting through cable tv channels. My attention was drawn to a VH-1 special called The Drug Years – a four hour documentary about drug use and its consequences over the last four or five decades. I was struck by how often the way pundits and folks interviewed used the same adjectives and metaphors to relate their drug experiences as we often hear to used describe the potential of software and the internet: mind expanding / mind blowing; connecting with everyone; global consciousness; new colors and shapes; combining music, colors and movement (i.e., animation); insiders vs. outsiders; the importance of play; ambivalence towards material wealth; etc.


Especially the section that focused on the 60’s seemed to capture the same utopian euphoria I’m hearing in the current technology environment (and what I heard during the first boom). Besides the use of mind-blowing adjectives, four themes spanned 60’s drug taking and the current technology wave: connecting to everyone (in some type of lovefest context); there are people who get it and people who don’t; multi-media helps define what’s happening; and, that everything will be different now (in an undefined way).

I know John Markoff made a connection between drug use and the original personal computer hackers in What the Dormouse Said: How the 60’s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry, but I think this is different. Maybe the 60’s counterculture never ended, it just went underground only to reemerge as a source of memes for the current technology culture.

So, following my logic, Web 2.0, DIY, open source, blogs, data are the new hallucinogens, only now it’s all legal.

P.S. Hope the subject text doesn’t trigger any extra scrutiny from the feds – evidence of another similarity between 60’s drug culture and 21st century technology, justified paranoia.”

While it’s easy to use the parallels to dismiss Web 2.0, to do so is in fact to miss the enormous transformative power of the sixties counter-culture. Millennial thinking is always over the top, but the human longing for transformation and transcendence is nonetheless a powerful force for change. Culture moves in a spiral, not a circle; history repeats itself dynamically, not statically.