The future's not what it used to be: the decline of technological enthusiasm in America, 1957-1970

Poehner, Lester
Major Professor
Alan I. Marcus
Committee Member
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Modern America's manifestation of progress depended on widespread eagerness for technological and scientific solutions to social and cultural problems. During the decade of the 1960s, this system of beliefs, notions, and underlying values was attacked by detractors who offered a very different version of a better future. Using standard sources, underground press articles, and the song lyrics of Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, and The Doors, the work focuses on the fear of nuclear war immediately after Sputnik, which led people to build personal bomb shelters as a civil defense against atomic bombs and fallout. This fear spilled over into the Atoms for Peace program, as public protests stopped construction of a nuclear reactor at Bodega Bay in Sonoma County, California. The Free Speech Movement at U. C. Berkeley protested the dehumanization of the students in the "multiversity." A fuller realization of anti-technological attitudes originated in the Haight-Ashbury hippie counterculture, which first came to public attention through the Human Be-In and the Summer of Love, ushered in a short lived Age of Aquarius. The hippies promoted a new spirituality based on LSD, first advocated by Timothy Leary. Ken Kesey, aided by his Merry Pranksters and acid by Owsley, sponsored public Acid Tests and Trips Festivals to promote the new experience. Feeling alienated from modern civilization and seeking a natural lifestyle, some hippies went back to the land, forming communes like Morning Star and Wheeler Ranch. The Whole Earth Catalog of Stewart Brand expounded technological self-sufficiency while proclaiming a vision of a holistic planet, brought home by the "Earthrise" pictures from the Apollo program. These natural and holistic expressions found form in the ecology movement with the apocalypse theme underlying it clearly illustrated by Rachel Carson in Silent Spring and Paul Erlich in The Population Bomb. Earth Day brought these concerns together, kicking off the ecology movement, the longest lasting achievement of the sixties rebellion, which focused on the end of unreasonable expectations and sought to promote appropriate technology with a view toward the limits of both progress and nature.