My excellent Conversation with the excellent Stewart Brand

Here is the audio, transcript, and video, here is part of the CWT summary:

Tyler and Stewart discuss what drives his curiosity, including the ways in which he’s a product of the Cold War, how he became a Darwinian decentralist, the effects of pre-industrial America on his thought, the subcultural convergences between hippies and younger American Indians, why he doesn’t think humans will be going to the stars, his two-minded approach to unexplained phenomena, how L.L. Bean inspired the Whole Earth Catalog, why Silicon Valley entrepreneurs don’t seem interested in the visual arts, why L.A. could not have been the home of hippie culture and digital innovation, what libertarians don’t understand about government, why we should bring back woolly mammoths, why he’s now focused on maintenance and institutions, and more.

COWEN: As you know, San Francisco was a relatively small city. Why did it, and not Los Angeles, become the center of hippie culture?

BRAND: That’s a fair question. Los Angeles never had 49ers. Los Angeles never burned to the ground. San Francisco — the phoenix city, they still say sometimes — has waves of boom and bust. It’s not particularly infrastructural. Los Angeles is completely based on oil and then water infrastructure and major shipping, even more than the Bay Area.

There’s a frivolousness that the Bay Area is good at. It has two universities of significance, with Stanford and Cal. So does LA, but LA does not feel like a college intellectual world, whereas San Francisco somewhat does. Silicon Valley really is an outgrowth of the industrial park at Stanford [laughs] that was invented by one guy. Then those things, as you know, take off economically. They feed themselves, and then they become their own storm system.

There’re a lot of people like me from the Midwest who come to places like California, and one of the things I saw — because I spent time on the East Coast in prep school, and then in New Jersey as a military officer, and then a lot in New York as an artist — the sense I got is that people go to New York and LA to be successful. If you can make it in the Big Apple, you can make it anywhere — that sort of thing. Nobody says that about San Francisco. They never have, and I bet they never do.

People go to San Francisco to be happy, by and large, and then that leads to sort of a devil-may-care creativity, which is actually good for business startups of certain kinds, especially ones that have a low threshold, like anything digital or anything online. Screwing around is not only possible but encouraged, and screwing around is a way you discover new, useful things in the world, I think. I knew by the time I graduated from Stanford that I wanted to stay in the Bay Area. I went away to be in the army, and then I came right back.

Interesting throughout.


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