Note — Mar 27, 2022

On Floating Upstream

W. Patrick McCray reviewing a book about the life and career of Stewart Brand. Brand is an interesting character, present for multiple important cultural and technological trends, too bad he’s too far on the technosolutionist end of the spectrum (for me) or I could be a real fan. Although McCray seems quite the fan himself, he does raise some of the biases of Brand and gives a good overview of the man’s career. The parts about staying close to power and the Global Business Network (GBN, basically a futures consultancy founded in 1987) were two less travelled bit of Brand’s life and a good addition to my understanding of him. Side note: is Tim O’Reilly a “Brand light” or “Brand 2.0”?

From the first Grateful Dead shows to 21st-century TED Talks, Brand is there. All the while, he has, according to Markoff, maintained a “consistent through line” of thought and purpose, marked by insatiable curiosity about technology, commitment to science and democracy (of the “small d” sort), and an aversion to orthodox thinking of all stripes. […]

Starting in the 1970s, he catalyzed public debates about personal computers, nanotechnology, the internet, and nuclear power. More recently, he has promoted the possibility of using biotechnology to reverse the extinction of certain creatures like the Xerces, a brilliantly iridescent blue butterfly that disappeared from the San Francisco area in the 1940s. […]

Cosmopolitan but affiliated with technoscientific-based industries, the people in Brand’s larger circle are always looking beyond the grind of industrial competition to a future that transcends time, space, politics, and bodies. As a cohort, they generally believe in accelerating technological improvement, of the sort predicted by Moore’s Law, which will make us more connected, longer-lived, and more liberated from our bodies, governments, and traditions. […]

With its enhanced trade opportunities and favorable geopolitics, GBN and its clients clearly favored the triumph of “Market World.” Regardless, it was technology tout court that always figured as the prominent force for social, economic, and political change.