Best known as the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, Stewart Brand has been involved in all sorts of interesting projects, from Doug Engelbart's radically innovative computer systems to George Church's efforts to revive extinct species.
Anne Herbert was a writer for the Whole Earth Catalog and its descendent magazine Coevolution Quarterly. She seems largely forgotten today; but I remember her wise and compassionate voice from those publications. It seemed to come from a different place than most, one that sounded like it would be welcoming. Her writing was simple, sincere, deep.
OTOH: this is what Stewart Brand and Whole Earth Catalog were doing: access to tools, we are as gods. He did not use terms like "increased agency" but that was pretty much the core philosophy. Also related to the hacker stance, and to some extent Stoicism.
Instantly my mind turns to Whole Earth Catalog, which was the Bible of Can for a generation, and a huge influence on me in my youth. Weird to think of it negatively like this. Part of me wants to harrumph and throw the book across the room, what do you mean being against achievement and capability, what kind of attitude is that? But I kind of get what he's saying.
A technology writer who covers some of the same themes I do. Kelly was the editor of Wired and before that associated with Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth Catalog and sort of incarnates the more libertarian techno-optimist strain of thinking from that quarter.
I was exposed to a really compelling version of design stance at an early age, since I somehow discovered Victor Papanek's Design for the Real World at the public library (quite possible heard about it via Whole Earth Catalog). This was an eye-opening and intense book, as Papanek excoriated the profession of industrial design for spending its energies on trivial things while the real problems of the world are begging for creative solutions. At the time I read it I probably had no idea that there was such a thing as industrial design, but now I not only was aware, I had strong opinions about it.
A cultish math book, introduced to me by the Whole Earth Catalog and Francisco Varela. From a purely math standpoint, it appears to introduce some novel and perhaps useful notation and invent something sort of like imaginary Boolean values. From a deeper metaphysical standpoint, it offers a way to talk about distinctions in general and our representation and participation in them.
We are all forced to be practitioners of agency, forced to construct ourselves as agents, and we might as well get better at it. Like the Whole Earth Catalog, I'm just trying to make the tools more accessible.
One of my heroes, Stewart Brand, famously promoted something akin to this stance with his Whole Earth Catalog mottos: "Access to Tools" and "We are as Gods and Might as well get Good at It". Tools for what? It doesn't matter, whatever you might want to do (in this case, "you" was a subset of hippies and people interested in alternative ways of living).
Aside from the particular word it doesn't seem very new; the same spirit animated the hippies fifty years ago and many others. I remember first seeing the Whole Earth Catalog and becoming excited that here was an approach to technology that wasn't dull and corporate and rationalist, but in some way alive and magical.
This particular quote has achieved a kind of meme status in tech, it defines our version of machismo. There's nothing obviously wrong with it either. That and the Whole Earth Catalog are my models for valorizing general competence and capability. Heinlein's military background is obvious; Stewart Brand was also in the army and acknowledges that experience as important. It's a stance I guess.
See Stewart Brand. The Catalog was a major early influence on me, particularly in its stance that one could be interested in anything and pursue anything. There was a Whole Earth Bookstore in Evanston, IL where I grew up, which is where I found both the catalog and Ted Nelson's Computer Lib/Dream Machines. When I went off to MIT I managed to fall in with a bunch of Whole Earth-friendly fellow students who were into alternative energy and other alternatives; later I got to actually share an office with SB himself in the early days of the Media Lab.
It's hard to remember what the world was like before the Internet, but back then you didn't have access to all the world's information and resources at your fingertips. There were daily papers and network news and that was it. The public library had plenty of stuff but it tended to be somewhat out of date. The Catalogs opened up a whole world of alternatives and underground scenes and innovations.
One distinctive voice I remember from the Whole Earth publications was Anne Herbert, an editor and writer who added a warm, female, humanist note with her little side observations. She seemed to have faded out of the scene; I found this web page about her and her work at archive.org