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WOODSTOCK – Social Media in the 1960s

2009 August 21

So much has been written about Woodstock.  Last week marked the 40th Anniversary of the festival, and though being a “west-coaster” and too young to travel that far on my own (damn), I have very vivid memories of Woodstock.   Those memories include the news reports of the time which were predominantly negative, the great film by Michael Wadleigh (which I first saw at a Drive-In Theatre ), and the Woodstock record (which I still love listening to – now on my iPod).

Last weekend, while watching the VH1 Rock Documentary “Woodstock:  Now  Then” I was struck by the differences and similarities in our cultures between 1969 and 2009 – AND how social media has evolved.

I hear you ask, “How could Social Media have evolved from 1969 to the present?  Social Media was just invented!!”

In reality, Social Media has been here all along.  It used to be called word of mouth.  News, gossip and other stories were passed from person to person and from generation to generation.  The content was primarily transmitted  verbally and was as accurate as the storyteller’s memory and point of view would allow.

We all know that the printing press and the invention of radio & TV broadcasting turned our communications from one-to-one to one-to-many.  But word of mouth still existed and Woodstock is probably the best illustration of it’s existence.

First off, the Woodstock festival was advertised on New York Radio.  But word got out around the globe which resulted in almost 500,000 showing up at a festival that was expecting about 20,000 with a goal of about 40,000.  Attendees interviewed in the VH1 documentary talked about how they arrived at the festival.  Most related that they heard about the festival from their friends.  Some heard from friends that it was impossible to get into the festival, or more importantly get to the festival, but that didn’t act as a deterrent, it acted as a catalyst.

At the festival, which in hindsight, was actually brilliantly organized, The Hog Farm not only offered free meals, but help with drug overdoses and other problems that might occur when you put that many people in one place at one time.  And the first day of the festival all news of those free meals was spread by word of mouth.

But the most compelling Social Media Story from Woodstock was the HUGE lines at the pay telephones 24/7 .  While the news media were reporting all bad news about the festival, those attending were calling their friends, and their parents etc.  During those phone calls they were told about the news reports and they rebutted those reports with their stories of fun, and love and cooperation.  That resulted in people calling their local TV stations to report that the news coverage was wrong, and the media (driven by local media) began to change their tune.

Now that’s Social Media!

The video below is my favorite Woodstock memory.  Michael Shrieve performing one of the most famous drum solos of all time! Peace, Out!  And please tweet this . . .


One Response leave one →
  1. September 2, 2009

    Your post is very intriguing about Woodstock. At the time, I was a 23 year old student at San Jose State. Although I didn’t attend Woodstock, it was a turning point in movement politics at the close of the decade.

    Timothy Fitzgerald, Author and Historian

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