How different would the Woodstock Festival have been if we'd had today's communications technologies 40 years ago? It's hard to imagine -- and not because "if you remember the '60s, you weren't there!" I was there.
I was 17, stumbling around Yasgur's farm and continually losing my buddy amid 350,000 other buddies. Though fairly sober (I'd stayed away from the brown acid), it was still scary to keep getting separated. Imagine how groovy if we had cell phones and tweets -- friend-finders even in the hugest of crowds slogging through the thickest of mud.
No one felt more completely abandoned than the young and hip who couldn't get to the mother of all rockfests. Ask my ex-wife, then 14 and stuck in Queens because her mom refused to let her go. With today's technocopia, she would've been totally plugged in, following the event song by song through twitter, live blogposts and video circulating across a million cell phones and computer screens faster than you can say "Look, Kramer is using the N-word onstage!"
GOOD NEWS: Santana's astounding performance goes instantly viral.
BAD NEWS: So does the chant of blissed-out hippies yelling, "NO RAIN, NO RAIN."
GOOD NEWS: Online sales smoothly distribute 350,000 tickets in hours.
BAD NEWS: Out of luck are those who show up ticketless expecting to walk in free over the fence (as I did).
GOOD NEWS: Cell-phone warnings about the brown acid avert dozens of bummers.
BAD NEWS: Paranoia over missing phones and dodgy reception causes dozens of bummers.
GOOD NEWS: Cell-phones eliminate the need for announcements from the stage about missing little sisters.
BAD NEWS: It's impossible to ditch little sisters and little brothers.
GOOD NEWS: Handheld devices and cells direct people to Port-O-Sans toilets without long lines.
BAD NEWS: No media technology can do anything about the smell.
GOOD NEWS: Without needing to wait 2 hours to get at limited pay phones, young people have no excuse to not call their parents.
BAD NEWS: Young people have no excuse to not call their parents.
GOOD NEWS: Accurate blogposts from the scene tell the world -- in real time -- about an amazingly beautiful, peaceful event.
BAD NEWS: We miss out on mainstream media caricatures, like the New York Times editorial -- "Nightmare in the Catskills" -- scorning "maddened youths" and asking: "What kind of culture is it that can produce so colossal a mess?"
GOOD NEWS: So much live video streams out of the festival that millions who aren't there see the riveting performances instantly.
BAD NEWS: Millions get these performances on handhelds through tiny screens and speakers.
WORSE NEWS: Few turn out later to see the path-breaking "Woodstock" documentary full-screen, fully-loaded in theaters.
GOOD NEWS: Pictures of two beautiful babies born at Woodstock that weekend (with birth info) spread warmth across a million screens.
BAD NEWS: Decades later, the two star in an obnoxious reality show: "Woodstock Babies."
Jeff Cohen lives near the village of Woodstock, NY, and directs the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College.
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