Hello everyone.

One of the perks of my recent move is that I’m within driving distance of Brown University.  Within a couple of days of moving to town, I signed up for my first class, Social Media and Online Community Building.  I’m hoping to learn more about ‘online community building’, a subject I’m interested in for my own work and for my business clients.

For class I read an article by Fred Turner, “Where the counterculture met the new economy: the WELL and the origins of virtual community”This article connected the dots for me in such a way as to reach a real ‘aha’.  It’s amazing how life brings information that adds one more piece to the jigsaw puzzle – little by little filling in the spaces until you can see the whole picture.

Remember Whole Earth Catalog?

In the article Turner outlines how the social media and online community passion that has become such a part of our lives now had its origins in the counter-culture movement of the sixties and seventies.  Did you know that?  Remember Whole Earth Catalog?  That “community in print” opened the doors to collaborative publishing.  Then in 1983 the online bulletin board version, the WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link), became the forum for Bay Area professionals, such as engineers and scientists, to exchange information, converse with friends and colleagues, build community, and promote their professional and economic lives.  More broadly, both versions enabled a geographically scattered community of counter-culturalists to connect, suggest products, and write reviews based on experience in the field, sometimes literally.

In my early twenties I was a confirmed counter-culturalist.  I had all the credentials:  I hitchhiked all over the country with my husband and our guitars; I lived in Haight-Ashbury in a flat with nine other people; I spent my days experimenting with various levels of consciousness in Golden Gate Park; I baked bread and washed clothes in a wringer washer; and I avidly read the Whole Earth Catalog, pouring over the entries.  Whole Earth Catalog was probably the most influential publication of its time in my world.  Through it we discovered the diversity of interests and lifestyles that defined our culture, the counter-culture.

The Dawning of the Age of Aquarius

I had no idea until I read Turner’s article that our “geographically dispersed network” became the foundation of virtual online communities, the predecessor of today’s forums and networking sites.  I had assumed, and have written as much in these pages, that the open sourcing mindset had been developed by my son’s generation.  To quote my own post:

My son uses this often in his work.  When he has a thorny technical problem to solve, first he looks on line to see if anyone else has resolved it.  He often finds the answer or at least a clue that provides the opening for him to successfully resolve it.  If the answer is not online, when he has resolved it, he posts it.  The next person that runs into the same issue can access his best thinking, instantly and free of charge.  Why does he do it?  Reciprocity, certainly, but also for the pure satisfaction of contributing to the advancement of shared knowledge.  This is kinship of another kind, Aquarian kinship, based on a deep understanding of who are our kin:  those who love the same knowledge as we and who share the desire to advance its frontier.

I never connected the dots back to our activities in the seventies:  attempting to live in a nonhierarchical, collaborative, interactive community led to the virtual social environment of today. 

Where’s the astrology in this?  I’m not sure.  I’ll have to go back and see what correspondences can be drawn or what long theme in the skies has played out since the countercultural revolution to now.  But I wanted to share this startling piece of continuity with you.  I must confess, I feel a little smug – we did make a difference!