Stewart Brand: Civilization Hacker

Mike Travers

What՚s his Job Description?

“I leave the interpretation of my role to others. …. My client is civilization and my approach is that of a hacker: to figure out the shortcuts that make things happen.”

ba_summer20_ph22-e1278996981860.jpg 5498318153_9794a9d6b1.jpg
Then Now

Job Title #2: Cosmic Impresario

Making the big picture visible.

“Understanding Whole Systems means looking both larger and smaller than where our daily habits live … What happend in the 20th century? the idea of self – the thing to be kept alive – expanded from the individual to the whole Earth.”

– SB, Next WEC

Whole Earth

“One of the few documented cases where someone on LSD had an idea that amounted to anything was my Whole Earth photograph notion. “

pin.jpg cool-space-picture-5.jpg

Long Now


Cybernetics and systems thinking

Tristes_Tropiques.jpg 7235686-L.jpg bateson.jpeg
Claude Levi-Strauss D՚Arcy Thompson Gregory Bateson

Brand՚s Trajectory

Early influences → Kesey/LSD → Whole Earth Catalog → Computers/Hacker Culture → Global Business Futurist → Long Now

The Early Years

Much of this is based on Frederick Turner՚s excellent book From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, The Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism

Really Early

  • Army (Paratrooper, Photographer)
  • Stanford
  • Paul Ehrlich (biology and ecology)


“an influential art tribe”

USCO “unites the cults of mysticism and technology as a basis for introspection and communication. ” (Turner)

  • Marshall Mcluhan
  • John Cage
  • John Brockman

Buckminster Fuller

“Scientists and politicians do not function in the comprehensive capacity. …a new social initiative which is not another function or specialization but is an integral of the sum of the product of all specializations, that is, the Comprehensive Designer…. an emerging synthesis of artist, inventor, mechanic, objective economist and evolutionary strategist.”



Charles & Ray Eames → Gordon Ashby → work on multimedia museum exhibits for IBM



“In the early sixties, when I was a young guy just out of the army, I hung out on Indian reservations in the summers. I was in the Native American Church and went to peyote meetings“


On the Bus

“the restrained, reflective wing of the Merry Pranksters. ” (Turner)


SB and the counterculture

“Counterculture was a little strange to me at the time…Free love went very badly. The drugs pretty much dead-ended. The Bucky Fuller domes leaked. The Communes failed. The music was good and the computer stuff was good….the most visible and influential continuation of counterculture is Burning Man.”


Whole Earth Catalog


Rather than a narrative thread… “the Catalog offered a cacophony of artifacts, voices, and visual design” (Turner)

“Like its choice of products, the Catalog’s design mingled the psychedelic, the nostalgic, and the practical. “


Connections with hacker culture

Brand was one of the very early non-technical people to grasp the signifacance of the computer revolution.

Mother of all demos

Brand’s first LSD experiment was conducted by Jim Fadiman, who later worked at SRI Augmentation Research Center.


Brand was videographer at Engelbart՚s famous demo.

Two Cybernetic Frontiers


Hacker culture & Gregory Bateson

Writing about Xerox PARC in Rolling Stone got them in hot water

Genuine subversion

⫸ We are as gods and might as well get good at it. ⫷

[in response to instutitional failure] a realm of intimate, personal power is developing—power of the individual to conduct his own education, find his own inspiration, shape his own environment, and share his adventure with whoever is interested. Tools that aid this process are sought and promoted by the WHOLE EARTH CATALOG.

Brand v. Abbie Hoffman

Deceased 1960s pal he’d like to see again: “Abbie Hoffman. He was brilliant and a card and dangerous to know and delightful in every way.”

hoffman.jpg ba_summer20_ph22-e1278996981860.jpg

Confronting Power vs. Quietly building alternatives to power