Episode 30: Stewart Brand | De-Extinction, The Whole Earth, & Way More | Click to Listen
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After On Podcast #30: The Breadth & Depth of Stewart Brand (from Boing Boing)
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 most influential early online communities, which he named The Well. He also convened history’s first hacker’s conference. He 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 New York Times 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.
As regular listeners know, the conversations I present are always unhurried. But Stewart and I set a new record in unhurriedness. In part because we go back a ways – we’ve known each other for years; we’ve attended countless conferences together; we’ve gone on weekend brainstorming retreats with small groups; we even spent a week in Havana with a handful of friends a year and a half ago.
Being friends, it was easier than usual to lose track of time. So we ended up having a truly long and fabulous conversation. I wrestled a bit with its length, because I want to be respectful of your time as listeners. But I also didn’t want to discard any of the fun tangents or deep dives that our conversation included.
So I decided to do an experiment. What I’m presenting in my public podcast is a semi-abridged version of our conversation (although weighing in at an hour and a half, you wouldn’t call it brief). It touches on all the main epochs of Stewart’s career – as well as most of the thoughts he shared with me about tech, the environment, and where humanity’s heading.
But I also made a second version of this interview – you might think of it as the director’s cut – which I’ve posted for supporters of this podcast on Patreon. The Patreon version is about 50% longer than this, and includes a lot more of everything. More anecdotes, more cultural history, quite a bit more about the sixties, plus deeper thoughts & detail on every phase of Stewart’s life.
It also better captures the truly unrushed ambiance of a recent afternoon, which slid into a golden twilight as Stewart and I discussed his unique and original Western American life.
I find both versions of the recording wonderful, and hope you enjoy whichever you end up listening to.
Finally, below are three photographs which I mention at the very end of the episode - of Tom Wolfe, and the magnificent book he signed for Stewart at my behest (oh - and one of the coolest canes ever hoisted!).