Happy Earth Day. Even though some may believe putting too much of an emphasis on Earth Day can distract us from the attention and support our planet needs every day, we still feel it’s important to acknowledge the profound changes it brought about and in doing so highlight a key individual who helped shaped the movement: Stewart Brand.
Brand's highly influential Whole Earth Catalog inspired a new generation of thinkers and innovators, and among many other things, is known for putting one of the earliest images of the planet on its cover. It made everyone realize that Earth is really one giant community, and by reconsidering our place in the universe, activists, politicians, scientists, and anyone with brave ideas and strong ideals could have a part in bettering its future.
In honor of Stewart Brand, we have put together a special blog post diving deeper into some of his most significant contributions and why, even if you’ve never heard of Stewart Brand, he’s had a hand in shaping your life.
Brand and Ken Kesey (author of ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest) organized Trips Festival in 1966 with the goal of bringing everyone who likes acid in the Bay Area together for a 3-day festival. The festival is often considered the spark that started the counter culture movement in 60s.
After an acid trip in 1966 Brand started lobbying the government and NASA to release a picture of the whole earth from space. He thought it might help people to understand how fragile our planet is. He circulated these pins (bottom right) around college campuses, local governments, and eventually a few ended up in NASA before the first photo was published and shared.
Most people think of the ‘Earth Rise’ or ‘Blue Marble’ photos as the first to ever be taken of the earth. However, in 1968 (2 years after Brand started advocating), NASA released this image from the ATS-3 satellite. This is the photo that was on the front of the first edition of the Whole Earth Catalog in 1968.
Probably Brand’s most well known contribution. The Whole Earth Catalog was a printed database of all resources and tools that someone would need to change the world. It is epic.
In 1972, he announced he was going to shut it down for no particular reason other than he wondered what would happen if you just ended something at it’s most successful point. They later launched “Co-Evolution Quarterly” which R. Crumb did a lot of comics for.
Steve Jobs talked about it in his Stanford commencement speech as a big influence on his life, and it’s subsequently gained popularity in the Silicon Valley.
More recently, Brand started this foundation with the goal of getting people to think about the world in a more long-term view and wrote a fantastic book on the subject.
Basically, LNF want to change people’s way of thinking about the term ‘now.’ Currently, when you ask people “How are things now?” they tend to think of ‘now’ as in the past few weeks. In the 18th Century, people would answer the question in the context of the past 100 years. LNF want people to take a step back and think of ‘now’ as the current 10,000 years, so you’ll often see dates written as 3rd Sept 02022). This allows people to think of the planet and environment in the context of ‘now’. One big project LNF is building is a 10,000 year clock that ticks once a year, moves the minute hand once every 100 years, etc.
An interesting tidbit is that LNF are advocating (somewhat successfully) for the de-extinction of species. They’re currently quite deep in on reviving the American Passenger Pigeon and have their sights set on the Wooly Mammoth.
In 1968, Brand helped Douglas Engelbart present and share some new tools designed to help people work together and solve some of the World’s biggest problems. What they showcased were the fundamental pieces of what make up our personal devices today (Brand himself was the first person to put the words ‘personal’ and ‘computer’ together). In a 90-minute presentation they unveiled: the windows operating system, the mouse, screen graphics, video conferencing, hyperlinks and collaborative editing (Google docs).
It might not sound too impressive but remember this was over 50 years ago and during that demo, they were essentially able to demonstrate Google Docs 30 years before Google was even founded. Brand also went on to co-found the WELL, the World’s first online community.