December 14, 2014
Like a Forrest Gump with promethean smarts, the writer and organizer STEWART BRAND (born 1938) has found himself moving and shaking through an extraordinary number of postwar media scenes, pretty much all of them emerging from Northern California. There was the Trips Festival, the Merry Prankster multimedia hoe-down he organized in 1966; and the game-changing Mother of All Demos he helped engineer for Doug Engelbart, which introduced digital innovations like teleconferencing, email, and the mouse to the world. He hit countercultural pay dirt by packaging back-to-the-land gear with the big blue marble (The Whole Earth Catalog), a 1968–72 publishing venture in holistic assemblage; it was later rebirther as the CoEvolution Quarterly, a capaciously curated hub of alternative ideas and tools. Brand coined the term “personal computer,” pioneered non-academic online community with the WELL (1985), and today — still living in a houseboat in Sausalito — he heads up the Long Now Foundation, a white-guy weird-science consortium that’s fostering long-term thinking by resurrecting passenger pigeons and building a clock designed to last twice the life of a bristlecone pine.
A student of Phillips Exeter and Stanford, Brand is far more of a privileged pragmatist than a lefty hippie, and his viridian green calls for an environmentalism characterized by geo-engineering and nuclear power has bummed out many a tree-hugger. But while the current tyranny of technological “solutionism” has, for many of us, soured the digital world Brand helped envision and promote, he is no Silicon Valley tool. Instead, he remains a doggedly independent and grain-traversing thinker-doer who recognizes — pace Evgeny Morozov, who will never understand the great land of California — that DIY futurism is not just an ideological branding strategy. It is a creative response to a world ever in the making.
READ MORE about members of the Anti-Anti-Utopian Generation (1934-43).