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Stewart Brand
Stewart Brand

is an author, editor, and creator of The Whole Earth Catalog and CoEvolution Quarterly. His intent with the Whole Earth Catalog was to enable people to find virtually any sort of information useful to themselves, in the belief that humans would then develop a new, positive and sustainable culture and technology for themselves; in this way, his ideas were forerunners of the Internet. Hence, Brand later pioneered the online community The WELL. Brand is noted as an editor who published writings by many of the now-acknowledged innovative thinkers of today, early in their careers. He is one of the co-founders of the Global Business Network. Brand was also one of a group of "futurists" consulted in the planning stage of the feature film Minority Report.

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. In a 2003 interview, Brand explained that the image "gave the s ense that Earth’s an island, surrounded by a lot of inhospitable space. And it’s so graphic, this little blue, white, green and brown jewel-like icon amongst a quite featureless black vacuum." It was during his Earth-photograph campaign that Brand met Richard Buckminster Fuller, who offered to help him in his projects.

In late 1968, Brand assisted electrical engineer Douglas Engelbart with The Mother of All Demos, 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 necessary 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 potential of alternative energy production (e.g., solar, wind, small-hydro, geothermal) through the Catalog.

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. Brand never better revealed his outlook and reason for hope than when he ran, in CoEvolution Quarterly #4, a transcription of technology historian Lewis Mumford’s talk “The Next Transformation of Man,” containing the statement: "...man has still within him sufficient resources to alter the direction of modern civilization, for we then need no longer regard man as the passive victim of his own irreversible technological development."

Content of the Quarterly 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 Lewis Mumford, Howard T. Odum, Witold Rybczynski, Karl Hess, Christopher Swan, Orville Schell, Ivan Illich, Ursula K. Le Guin, Gregory Bateson, Amory Lovins, Hazel Henderson, 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 and Larry Brilliant founded The WELL ("Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link"), a prototypic, broad-ranging online chat room for intelligent, informed participants the world over.

The WELL won the 1990 Best Online Publication Award from the Computer Press Association.

In 1986, Brand was a 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 sat on the board of the Santa Fe Institute (founded in 1984), an organization devoted to "fostering a multidisciplinary scientific research community pursuing frontier science." He has continued also to promote the preservation of tracts of wilderness.

Brand still stands behind his original insights. Well aware that there are plans afoot to mine the Moon for minerals, as a biologist he has been keenly aware that minerals are not the only need that Earth's life forms have, by any means. In a 2003 interview, he said "this [Earth] is all we’ve got and we’ve got to make it work. There’s no back up."

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." (Spoken at the first Hackers' Conference, and printed 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:
  • The Whole Earth Catalog in 1968
  • CoEvolution Quarterly in 1974, with proceeds from The Whole Earth Catalog
  • Point Foundation
  • Global Business Network (co-founder)
  • The WELL in 1985, with Larry Brilliant
  • Hacker's Conference
  • Long Now Foundation in 1996, with computer scientist Danny Hillis— one of the Foundation's projects is to build a 10,000 year clock, the Clock of the Long Now

Visit Stewart Brand on the web
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