The Guardian said it well: for Stewart Brand, “big ideas are a way of life”. Our latest addition to the 2269 ‘Guests of Honour’ list was a central figure in 1960s west-coast counterculture in the US. He continued to innovate over the decades as a tech visionary and he now serves as President of The Long Now Foundation. His invitation to The Greatest Party of All Time is inevitable and well deserved.
Brand had his eyes on the way that tools, as well as consciousness, might effect real lasting change in the way we live. That focus on practicality was best embodied by his Whole Earth Catalogue, an eclectic magazine of reviews and thoughts which became an invaluable resource for those seeking a self-sufficient or communal life, yet so much more.
The New York Times called Brand’s book, “the internet before the internet. It was the book of the future. It was a web in newsprint.” The founding editor of Wired called it, “being given permission to invent your own life.”
Brand also came to recognise other tools on the horizon, getting involved in a demonstration of computer mice, hypertext and email in 1968, instinctively seeing how these things might shape our future. Watching Stanford Computer Techs playing an early video game he described it as having an “out-of-body experience.” Technology could be liberating. A famous example was Brand’s campaign to have NASA release a “whole Earth” image taken from space, knowing the likely effect on the public of seeing our planet as an island from the outside for the very first time.
His contemporaries may have dropped out of public discourse as the decades rolled by, but Brand has remained at the cutting edge. His many publications proved to be a centre of thought on the natural sciences, technology, social science and futurism, forming some of the first online communities. Credited with originating the term ‘personal computer’ and inspiring many prominent tech pioneers, Brand’s fingerprints are all over the internet and subsequently over the modern world.
A founding member of the Long Now Foundation in 1996, he sought the like-minded to establish an institution that could prove a counterpoint to society’s obsession with the fast and the cheap. He hoped that their work would inspire slower, longer and implicitly better thinking. His aim: to have people live in the big here, and the long now.
There are many more strings to his bow and frankly too many intriguing Stewart Brand facts to include here; by way of an example he’s looking to “de-extinct” mammoths – for entirely rational reasons. There is always more ahead for Stewart Brand. And more we can learn from him. No doubt he would make for a fascinating guest at any party. An invitation to Mr Brand is on its way.
Civilization is revving itself into a pathologically short attention span… Some sort of balancing corrective to the short-sightedness is needed—some mechanism or myth that encourages the long view and the taking of long-term responsibility, where “the long term” is measured at least in centuries.