Interview with Stewart Brand on the 50th anniversary of the Whole Earth Catalog

Many people have equated Stewart Brand to the mythical “World’s Most Interesting Man,” who was featured for years in those Dos Equis commercials. Enough people that the comparison’s a bit of a cliché. But like many clichés, there is something to it.

Stewart was among the most culturally catalytic people in the turbulent years of the late 1960s - although back then, he did a lot of his catalyzing behind the scenes. He went on to become a rather visible founding figure of the environmental movement of the early 70s. Later, he created one of the earliest and most influential online communities, which he named The Well. He convened history’s first hacker’s conference, then later co-founded one of the world’s premiere centers of truly long-term thinking. He’s still running that today, and is also helping the renowned bioengineer and genomicist George Church resurrect extinct species, like the wooly mammoth.

If this makes you think Stewart might be something of a historic figure, you’re not alone. He showed up for his interview at my apartment with a production crew, who were filming a documentary about his life. Meanwhile John Markoff - who for decades at the NYT was among the world’s most influential and well-regarded tech journalists - is writing a biography about Stewart.

For the same reasons that Stewart attracts this sort of attention, I’m taking an unusual approach to this episode. Rather than focusing solely on a single deep and complex aspect of his work, Stewart and I speak broadly about the sweep of his experiences, and the unique perspective they’ve given him on technology, the environment, and our prospects of navigating the coming century. Read the rest

Stewart Brand on the Whole Earth Catalog’s legacy over 50 years

Stewart Brand's Whole Earth Catalog was hugely influential on my life. I saw a copy when I was about 10 years old and it was a portal to a mind-blowing new world of possibilities. My outlook on everything changed that day. Years later, I traded subscriptions of The Whole Earth Review for bOING bOING (the zine, which Carla and I launched in 1987). Whole Earth Review was edited by Kevin Kelly, and he later hired me to work at Wired (he co-founded it with Louis Rossetto and Jane Metcalfe) as an editor, even though I had zero experience editing anything other than a zine.

Today, Kevin and I run a website called Cool Tools, which, like the Whole Earth Catalog, runs recommendations of tools written by people who use them.

The Whole Earth Catalog is 50 years old this year. Stewart Brand has continued to do interesting things over the decades, and in this video, recorded last night in San Francisco, Stewart talks about his life and interests in front of a live audience. Read the rest

Whole Earth contributor Lloyd Kahn walks us through a rare first edition of the iconic catalog

When I was a teen, I traded the first nickle ($5) bag of weed I'd ever acquired for a friend's copy of the 1971 Whole Earth Catalog. I traded intoxication for knowledge, for "access to tools," and I have never looked back. That 1971 catalog set me onto the DIY path and I have never wavered from it.

In this wonderful video, by way of Kevin Kelly's Facebook feed, another hero of mine from that era, Lloyd Kahn (of the amazing Shelter books) thumbs through his copy of the very first Whole Earth Catalog, the 64-page, fall of 1968 edition. Lloyd claims in the video that not even Stewart Brand has a copy of this edition.

I love how Lloyd's copy is all marked up. I recently found my 1971 edition in the attic. I too had marked, circled, checked, and made notes to the entries where I'd sent off for books, magazines, and other resources. It's so surreal to be able to lay my eyes upon the moment I discovered books, tools, places, and people that would go on to become hugely important in my life.

BTW: If you want to learn more about the history of the Catalog and read some of its seminal essays, check out The Whole Earth Field Guide from MIT which I reviewed here on Boing Boing earlier this year. Read the rest

New book of seminal essays and ideas from the iconic Whole Earth Catalog

When I was 15 years old, I decided that I wanted to try marijuana. It took me a while, but I eventually scored some from a high schooler and went to a friend’s house to smoke it. His brother was away at college and allegedly had rolling papers in his room. We needed something to clean the pot on, too, and his brother conveniently had a large book, a floppy, unwieldy beast called The Last Whole Earth Catalog. As I hunched over this mysterious artifact, picking out seeds and stems while scanning the oversized pages, for the first time, I encountered names like Buckminster Fuller, Gregory Bateson, Stewart Brand, and concepts like systems thinking, nomadics, geodesic domes, and countless domains of DIY. I was completely enthralled. We managed to roll a sad-looking, lumpy joint and smoked it, but I was more interested in the book than the dope. When we were done, I asked him if I could trade my nickel bag ($5-worth) for the catalog (which had a big $5 price tag, printed in big Cooper Black type, right on the cover). He said his brother hadn’t seemed tremendously interested and probably wouldn’t miss it. We made the trade. I didn’t know it at the time, but in that transaction, I had just set foot on the path that leads directly to today. My lifelong work in DIY media, tech, and culture (I lived in communes for nearly 20 years) can all be traced directly back to this copy of the catalog and all those that followed. Read the rest