Fred Turner on the Edge
John Brockman’s Edge, a Web forum for some of today’s most brilliant intellectual outsiders, currently features a long article on Stewart Brand, ‘60s counterculture, and Fred Turner’s new book, From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism. Brand and the Whole Earth Network formed a group of artists and entrepreneurs who worked to bring together the disparate worlds of high technology and the flower power denizens of the ‘60s and ‘70s. The Edge article includes a fascinating ramble by Brockman on his personal friendship with Brand as well as an extended excerpt from the second chapter of Turner’s book. John Brockman writes:
In 1983, Stewart Brand sent Dick Farson and Darryl Iconogle of the Western Behavioral Science Institute to see me in New York about a piece of conferencing software called the Onion, which was being used on a bulletin board system called EIES (Electronic Information Exchange System) and run by Murray Turoff. When I demurred, Stewart told me I could be a player or I could choose to sit out the biggest development of the decade. I chose to sit it out.
Stewart was right and wrong. It is the biggest development of the ’90s, not the ’80s. Inspired by EIES, in 1984 Stewart co founded The Well (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link), a computer teleconference system for the San Francisco Bay Area, considered a bellwether of the genre.
Clearly, some of the interesting thinking about the Internet has its origins in ideas formulated by the artists of the ’60s, which, wittingly or unwittingly, were carried forward by the enthusiastic young Lieutenant Brand. Considerations of form and content, context, community, and even the hacker ethic were all presaged in part by activities and discussions during that period.…
In the 1990s, the Los Angeles Times Magazine published a cover story: “Always two steps ahead of others … (he) is the least recognized, most influential thinker in America.” The story was about Stewart Brand. The story was absolutely correct: Stewart Brand is the most influential thinker in America.