From Satori to Silicon Valley

by Theodore Roszak
Copyright 2000 by Theodore Roszak. All rights reserved.

The Times They Keep A-Changin'

When this essay was first written for the Alvin Fine Memorial Lecture at San Francisco State University in April 1985, I was not fully aware of how much the times had already changed since I wrote The Making of a Counter Culture in 1969. But I soon learned. A few weeks before the lecture, a student in the Public Affairs Office at San Francisco State called me to arrange some campus publicity. He had a question.

"Where's Satori?"

"What?" I asked.

"Your lecture is called 'From Satori to Silicon Valley,' " he explained. "I know where Silicon Valley is. But where's Satori?"

"The Zen state of enlightenment ... you never heard of that?"

"Oh. I never took any courses in Oriental religion "

I started to explain the term, spelling out its once obvious connection with the counter culture of the sixties.

"Counter culture," he interrupted. "That's ... hippies. All like that."

Suddenly I felt one hundred years old.

I often feel that way these days. I teach students now who have no clear idea what a sit-in or a teach-in was, who no longer remember the Days of Rage or the Summer of Love, Vietnam or Watergate. Woodstock for them is only a picture in their textbooks, the Chicago Seven (or was it Eight?) are an unknown quantity.

Only to be expected. After all, when I was making my way through college, what did I know about Sacco and Vanzetti ... the Memorial Day Massacre ... the Moscow Trials ... ? Time passes. Social memory is a shifting cloud. The young, awkwardly segueing into citizenhood, leave ancestral traumas and triumphs behind. Which is as it should be. One hopes they will go on to better things of their own.

Will they? There is no guarantee, but knowing a little history might help. And having some idea of where satori is can't hurt.

But do bear in mind as you read, that this essay dates back to 1985. Rather than revise to take account of all that has happened in the world of high tech since then, I have made only minor changes of style. That might seem to risk leaving a lot uncovered. But the main issue under discussion in this essay, the convoluted interplay between Technophiles and Reversionaries within the counter culture of the sixties and seventies, remains a significant history lesson for those interested in the greater meaning of computers in our culture. As for other social and technological developments since the advent of the first Macintosh, much of this is covered in my book The Cult of Information: A Neo-Luddite Treatise on High Tech, Artificial Intelligence, and the True Art of Thinking, available in a second edition from the University of California Press as of 1995.

Rather than revise the original essay, I have added a few afterthoughts in two new sections at the end. "Nerds, Zombies, and the Flight from Mortality" deals in greater depth with what I now see as the Gnostic undercurrent of Technophilia. The final section, "Down Among the Cyberpunks," faces up to the fact that neither Technophiles nor Reversionaries achieved the utopian vista they had in view. Instead, another force has won the day. That leaves us to look for hope in odd places, perhaps among the uneasy dreams of digital outlaws.


From Satori to Silicon Valley

Some Afterthoughts in the Year 2000

From Satori to Silicon Valley by Theodore Roszak
Copyright 2000 by Theodore Roszak. All rights reserved.