Stewart Brand

From Academic Kids

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Stewart Brand speaking September 5, 2004

Stewart Brand (born December 14, 1938 in Rockford, Illinois) is an author, editor, and creator of The Whole Earth Catalog, CoEvolution Quarterly, and the pioneering online community The WELL. He has also been an appointee to California state government and is one of the co-founders of the Global Business Network.

Contents

Life and work

During Brand's childhood, his father worried that school was not stimulating Stewart to independent, creative thinking. His parents' response was to send him to Phillips Exeter Academy. From there, he went on to study biology at Stanford University, graduating in 1960. In the U.S. Army, he was a parachutist and taught infantry skills; he was later to express that his experience in the military fostered his competence in organizing. A civilian again, in the year 1962 he studied design at San Francisco Art Institute, photography at San Francisco State College, and was a participant in a legitimate study of the then-legal drug LSD, in Menlo Park.

Brand has lived in California in the years since. Through scholarship and by visiting numerous Indian reservations, biologist-artist Brand familiarized himself with the Native Americans of the West. Native Americans have continued to be an important cultural interest, an interest which has re-emerged in Brand's work in various ways through the years.

By the mid '60s, he developed an association with author Ken Kesey and the "Merry Pranksters," and in San Francisco, Brand produced the Trips Festival, a pioneering effort involving rock music and light shows.

In 1966, Brand initiated a public campaign to have NASA release the then-rumored satellite image of the entire Earth as seen from space. He thought the image of our planet might be a powerful symbol.

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Earth from Space

In late 1968, Brand assisted electrical engineer Douglas Engelbart with a famous presentation of many revolutionary computer technologies (including the mouse) to the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco.

Brand surmised that, given the needed consciousness, information, and tools, human beings might reshape the world they had made (and were making) for themselves into something environmentally and socially sustainable. The fact that he had builders, designers, and engineers as friends surely influenced his reasoning.

In 1968, using the most basic of typesetting and page-layout tools, he and cohorts created issue number one of The Whole Earth Catalog. That first oversize Catalog, and its successors into the '70s and later, reckoned that many sorts of things were useful "tools": books, maps, garden tools, specialized clothing, carpenter's and mason's tools, forestry gear, tents, welding equipment, professional journals, early synthesizers and personal computers -- the list was broad and nearly endless. Brand invited "reviews" of the best of these items from experts in specific fields, as though they were writing a letter to a friend. The information also made known where these things could be located or bought. The Catalog's publication coincided with the great wave of experimentalism, convention-breaking, and "do it yourself" attitude associated with the "counterculture."

The influence of these Whole Earth Catalogs on the rural back-to-the-land movement of the 1970s, and the communities movement within many cities, was widespread, being felt in the U.S. and Canada and far beyond. A 1972 edition sold 1.5 million copies and in the U.S. won a National Book Award. Many people first learned about the potentials of alternative energy production (e.g., solar, wind, small-hydro, geothermal) through the Catalogs. (See also renewable energy.)

To carry on this work and also to publish full-length articles on specific topics in natural sciences and invention, in numerous areas of arts and social sciences, and on the contemporary scene in general, Brand founded the CoEvolution Quarterly in 1974, aimed primarily at the savvy, educated layperson. Content often wandered through the risky edges of futurism, or the risqué byways of modern life. Besides giving space to unknown writers with something valuable to say, Brand presented articles by many highly respected authors and thinkers, including Karl Hess, Christopher Swan, Orville Schell, Ivan Illich, Ursula K. LeGuin, Gregory Bateson, Amory Lovins, Howard Odum, Gary Snyder, Lynn Margulis, Peter Calthorpe, Sim Van der Ryn, Paul Hawken, John Todd, J. Baldwin, Kevin Kelly (future editor of Wired magazine), and Donella Meadows. In ensuing years, Brand authored and edited a number of books on topics as diverse as computer-based media, the life-history of buildings, and ideas about space colonies.

In 1977-79, Brand served as "special advisor" in the administration of California Governor Jerry Brown. In 1985, Brand founded The WELL ("Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link"), a prototypic, broad-ranging online chat room for intelligent, informed participants the world over.
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The WELL won the 1990 Best Online Publication Award from the Computer Press Association.

In 1986, Brand was visiting scientist at the Media Laboratory at MIT. Soon after, he took up the role of private-conference organizer for such corporations as Royal Dutch/Shell, Volvo, and AT&T. In 1988, he became a co-founder of the Global Business Network, which explores global futures and business strategies informed by the sorts of values and information which Brand has always found vital. GBN has taken a leadership role in the evolution and application of scenario thinking, planning, and complementary strategic tools. In other connections, Brand has continued to promote social and environmental responsibility, including the preservation of some magnificent tracts of wilderness.

A few of Brand's more recent aphorisms (on which he has elaborated) are: "Civilization’s shortening attention span is mismatched with the pace of environmental problems," "Environmental health requires peace, prosperity, and continuity," "Technology can be good for the environment," and (perhaps his most famous) "Information Wants To Be Free. Information also wants to be expensive. Information wants to be free because it has become so cheap to distribute, copy, and recombine---too cheap to meter. It wants to be expensive because it can be immeasurably valuable to the recipient. That tension will not go away. It leads to endless wrenching debate about price, copyright, 'intellectual property', the moral rightness of casual distribution, because each round of new devices makes the tension worse, not better." (at the first Hackers' Conference, and printed in a report in the May 1985 "Whole Earth Review." It later turned up in his book, "The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT," published in 1987).

Stewart Brand is the founder of the following institutions:

Books

As editor or co-editor

References

  • Phil Garlington, "Stewart Brand," Outside magazine, December 1977.
  • Sam Martin and Matt Scanlon, "The Long Now: An Interview with Stewart Brand," Mother Earth News magazine, January 2001 [1] (http://www.findarticles.com/articles/mi_mi1279/is_2001_Jan/ai_66961751)
  • "Stewart Brand" (c.v., updated October 2001) [2] (http://www.well.com/user/sbb/bio.html)
  • Whole Earth Catalog, various issues, 1968-1980.
  • CoEvolution Quarterly (in the 1980s, renamed Whole Earth Review, later just Whole Earth), various issues, 1974-2002.

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