What the Silicon Valley Prophet Sees on the Horizon
In 2005, Mr. Jobs gave a commencement address at Stanford, cited Mr. Brand as a major influence in his life and explained what “Whole Earth” was to a younger generation: “It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along,” he said. “It was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.”
Mr. Brand coined the term “personal computer” in 1974, several years after writing an article for Rolling Stone that drew a picture of the future of the digital world. Computers, he predicted, would be the next important trend after psychedelic drugs: “That’s good news, maybe the best since psychedelics. It’s way off the track of the ‘Computers — Threat or menace?’ school of liberal criticism but surprisingly in line with the romantic fantasies of the forefathers of the science,” he wrote.
Now Mr. Brand, considered by many to be one of the nation’s pre-eminent futurists, is busy helping to build that 10,000-year clock — a path toward what he believes will be a long-term future for civilization.
Mr. Brand has long had an eerie knack for being able to spot trends early on or show up in the midst of them like some high-I.Q. Forrest Gump, only to leave for the next big thing just when everyone else catches up.
For example, in 1967, just when many of his friends were going back to the land to found communes, Mr. Brand arrived squarely in the middle of the region soon to be named Silicon Valley. In his journal at the time, he wrote that he was living in Menlo Park “with the intent to let my technology happen here.”
His “Whole Earth Catalog” was subtitled “Access to Tools,” and recently, as the national zeitgeist soured on Silicon Valley, a wide variety of authors, including Franklin Foer in “World Without Mind,” Jill Lepore in “These Truths” and Jonathan Taplin in “Move Fast and Break Things,” have all pointed to Mr. Brand as the original technological utopian. His words and ideas, they argue, seduced and inspired the engineers who created the modern digital world.
Mr. Brand, who considers himself a relentless pragmatist, winces at the label. “All utopias are dystopias,” he said during a conversation this month in the ramshackle office he has inhabited on the Sausalito, Calif., waterfront since the early 1970s.