Hal Royaltey (hal) Sun 5 Jun 05 23:58
Our guest this week is John Markoff, author of "What the Dormouse Said". When asked to describe himself in just a few paragraphs he replies: I am a reporter for the New York Times. I have been covering Silicon Valley from the San Francisco bureau of the paper since 1992. I believe I am now the longest surviving daily technology writer. Before that I wrote for the Times from New York, covering the computer industry nationally. I stopped being the Internet reporter for the Times in 1992! I came to the Times by way of the San Francisco Examiner, where I was when Will Hearst was publisher (and Hunter Thompson was a columnist) between 1985 and 1988. I was an early participant in the Well community. I have written several other books including "The High Cost of High Tech" with Lenny Siegel and "Takedown" with Tsutomu Shimomura. "What the Dormouse Said" was published in April of this year. I live in San Francisco, Ca. I saw my first Grateful Dead concert in 1967. ===== Our interviewer is Howard Rheingold. Howard has been writing about culture and technology for more than 20 years. By 1987 he had written the first article to use the term "virtual communities" for the Whole Earth Review. It took five more years before book publishers realized he was onto something. Here's a skeletal outline of his career: Howard Rheingold <http://www.rheingold.com> is the author of: Smart Mobs <http://www.smartmobs.com> The Virtual Community <http://www.rheingold.com/texts/tft/> Tools for Thought <http://www.rheingold.com/texts/tft/vc/book> was the editor of: The Whole Earth Review <http://www.wholeearthmag.com/> The Millennium Whole Earth Catalog <http://www.well.com/user/hlr/mwecintro.html> HotWired <http://www.hotwired.com> teaches: Toward A Literacy of Cooperation (Stanford) <http://cooperation.smartmobs.com>
Hal Royaltey (hal) Mon 6 Jun 05 00:05
Howard has been in Europe for the past week, but has asked me to post these first two questions to kick off the interview: ======= John -- thanks for this terrific book. Not only does it fill in a lot of history that has interested me for some time, but it furnishes a wealth of backup for arguing that the counterculture was not the sensational, idealistic, and spectacularly failed social movement (or movements) that current common wisdom (and perhaps propaganda) would have us believe. So let's start with something of a quick summary of your argument, and then we'll get to the fascinating stories that back it up. By this time, you've probably done a number of radio interviews and know how to summarize a rich and complex argument in relatively few words. So imagine you are doing one of those interviews. Or imagine that you are at a cocktail party and someone who claims to know something about the personal computer industry, the Internet, and its origins makes a sneering comment on what a dud the counterculture of the sixties was. How do you respond? .. and .. You introduce the book by talking about one of the characters who served to connect the different worlds of psychedelia, cyberculture, and counterculture politics -- Stewart Brand. Of course we have to get back to him. But your first chapter establishes your storyline on three characters -- Myron Stolaroff, Fred Moore, and Doug Engelbart. Most if not all of the people reading this interview probably know about Engelbart and his connection to the technologies we use today (although I bet more than a few people don't know about Engelbart's experience with psychedelics or est). I'll bet that considerably fewer people know about Myron Stolaroff or Fred Moore. Tell us a little about them, and why you felt they were the characters to introduce your story.
John Markoff (johnm) Mon 6 Jun 05 16:35
Hi Howard, it's great to be back on the well. It's been awhile! To start things off. You ask how would I respond to someone who suggests that the counterculture was a dud. In one sense its funny because I have been expecting that question but haven't gotten it yet. That said, the most interesting thing that has happened on my book tour was at Microsoft where a new member of Microsoft's PR apparatus, who had previously worked in the White House came up to me and told me that he was anxious to read my book because, "these were the ideas which helped to form the president's worldview." That set me back, but it also made me think about how the impact of the sixties is still resonating through our society. People like Bush and Bolton really did form their worldviews in the context of the sixties and under the influence of the counterculture. I was particularly surprised in the review that Roger Lowenstein wrote in the NYT, which seems to represent the establishment POV. His assertion that the Whole Earth Catalog was "perfectly useless" just floored me. Two quick examples - it had a dramatic influence on Alan Kay, the inventor of the first modern PC, who at one walked in to the office of the Xerox PARC librarian and told her to order all of the books mentioned in the catalog. Moveover, Ted Nelson, who compiled the tremendously influential Computer Lib/Dream Machines conciously modeled after the WEC. I could go on at length. The other point to make is about Fred Moore, the computer hobbyist and itinerent draft resistor, who co-founded the Homebrew Computer Club. His values and the values of the hobbyists who started the club continue to flower in the Open Source movement. Fred should be there patron saint.... I chose Engelbart, Stolaroff and Moore to represent the three threads that I think intersected around Stanford during the sixties. Myron Stolaroff was a Stanford educated engineer who was exposed to LSD in the late 50s while he was head of strategic planning at Ampex, the tape recording company. He came to believe that it could have an impact on creativity. Ultimately he created a research group in Menlo Park to study that thesis. During the early sixties almost four hundred, a largely technical group of people including Engelbart, went through an experimental LSD experience offered by his research group, the International Foundation for Advanced Study. Doug Engelbart is simply the Moses of modern computing. His Augment group (as you originally described!in Tools for Thought) developed much of the technology that we now use in the form of the modern PC and the Internet. Doug's interest in the idea of augmentation paralleled other sixties movements that were interested in exploring the limits of human conciousness. There is a tragic aspect to Doug's career. SRI through him out into the wilderness in the mid 1970s and Xerox PARC took his best people and ideas. It was more than a decade before he would begin to get the recognition he deserved. Finally Fred Moore had an impact not just in the Homebrew Club, which led directly to the PC industry, but also a decade and a half earlier he had staged a solitary protest against mandatory ROTC on the steps of Sproul Plaza at Berkeley. This sit-in actually had a significant influence on some of the leaders of the Free Speech Movement, which happened more than four years later. When Fred died in a car accident in 1997, there was not an obituary for him in any of the Bay Area newspapers.
J Matisse Enzer (matisse) Mon 6 Jun 05 16:54
Wow, this is gonna be good.
David Gans (tnf) Mon 6 Jun 05 17:13
Welcome back, John!
Lena M. Diethelm (lendie) Mon 6 Jun 05 17:20
John's going to be talking about his book and have a panel consisting of Dennis Allison, Lee Felsenstein, Larry Tesler & Bill Duvall at this SDF event This Wed June 8 6pm at PARC in Palo Alto: http://www.sdforum.org/sdforum/Templates/CalendarEvent.aspx?CID=1693&mo=6&yr=2 005
Ron Sipherd (ronks) Mon 6 Jun 05 17:29
> I stopped being the Internet reporter for the Times in 1992 Well it kind of petered out after that, you know. Welcome, John! I'll be interested to follow this discussion. One question I have, or area of interest since I can't package it into a question, is the relation of the personal computer pioneers to the existing mainframe computer technologists. Not so much the white-shirt-and-tie guys from IBM and EDS/Perot, that's an obvious contrast; but the lab folks developing virtual memory, multiprogramming, many of the then cutting-edge stuff which appeared first in big iron and got adopted into desktops. Was there any interaction between the groups outside of reading one another's technical papers?
John Ross (johnross) Mon 6 Jun 05 17:55
Related to Ron's question, or maybe another part of the same question, it would seem that the foundation had already been laid before the advent of the personal computer, by people like Fred Terman and his students, and the guys who left Fairchild to create umpteen new companies. Arguably, Stolaroff and his colleagues at Ampex were part of that first wave. That said, there were some similar environments around Boston (around Harvard and MIT) and in Texas (emerging from Texas Instruments). But the critical mass for the development of personal computers happened in what was already being called Silicon Valley. What did the counterculture of the Bay Area have that did not exist (or emerge) in Cambridge?
Ron Sipherd (ronks) Mon 6 Jun 05 18:14
> What did the counterculture of the Bay Area have that did not exist > (or emerge) in Cambridge? On that particular issue, maybe I should point to (or plug) topic 52 in the Business & Technology <biztech.> conference: "East Meets West, Not; Route 128 and Silicon Valley Compared" Not specifically about countercultures, but about the contrasts.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 6 Jun 05 18:16
(When you mention Texas, don't ignore the Motorola campuses in Austin.)
Dennis Wilen (the-voidmstr) Mon 6 Jun 05 18:24
Here's a description of the book, since no one has posted one yet, and I for one have been wondering WTF? >>> From Publishers Weekly Starred Review. Since much of the research behind the development of the personal computer was conducted in 1960s California, it might seem obvious that the scientists were influenced by the cultural upheavals going on outside the lab. Very few people outside the computing scene, however, have connected the dots before Markoff's lively account. He shows how almost every feature of today's home computers, from the graphical interface to the mouse control, can be traced to two Stanford research facilities that were completely immersed in the counterculture. Crackling profiles of figures like Fred Moore (a pioneering pacifist and antiwar activist who tried to build political bridges through his work in digital connectivity) and Doug Engelbart (a research director who was driven by the drug-fueled vision that digital computers could augment human memory and performance) telescope the era and the ways its earnest idealism fueled a passion for a computing society. ... http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0670033820/
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Mon 6 Jun 05 18:59
as someone who lived through the 60s at ucberkeley and stanford, this book was an evocative stroll down memory lane for me, john. (pls excuse lower case--a broken arm is keeping me from the shift key). i came across names and events i haven't thought about in decades. before i read the book, i wondered what more could be added to the histories already written. the answer--the very important answer--is in your book.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Mon 6 Jun 05 19:38
#7: I think it was the weather. I remember an article in Wired, I think it was, along these lines a number of years ago that caused some furor. How much of an influence was that article on this book?
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Mon 6 Jun 05 21:31
I think John will have some interesting things to say about why the PC emerged in Silicon Valley, and not Cambridge. For me, so much of the rich detail of the historical characters fills in a lot. When I started looking a cool place to do a writing gig, around 1981, I ended up working with Willis Harman, who had to be the straightest looking grandpa engineering professor churchgoing white guy -- who had been turned on to acid by Al Hubbard. So maybe we could careen back and forth a little bit between the PC-history side of the story, and the LSD visionary weirdo side of the story. I'd like to talk a little about Bob Taylor, who in his quiet way was the real enabler of people like Engelbart and Alan Kay. I knew him, too, from the gig I talked my way into after I finished the one with Willis Harman. But first...can you tell us a little about who Al Hubbard was and what he did? I met Stolaroff as well, at Sasha Shulgin's get-togethers. This has to be the richest collection of characters that anyone has had to deal with for a non-fiction book since, maybe the Manhattan Project. I have to agree with Pamela -- you really connect the dots.
Matthew McClure (mmc) Tue 7 Jun 05 00:02
I agree. I was at Stanford from '64-'68, and did some work on SRI's computer in the basement (B5500 w/punch cards), worked with Stewart on the Whole Earth Catalog, and at his suggestion I interviewed with Bill English and Doug Engelbart and saw a demo of their mouse-driven UI. I'd been demonstrating outside SRI the week before I interviewed with them. It made for an interesting dissonance. I had no idea they were involved with acid; I might have pursued the position more vigorously if I had. I really enjoyed the read, John. Thanks. Did you get to know Dick Raymond at all? He struck me as a certifiably Good Guy.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Tue 7 Jun 05 05:20
A bunch of MIT people moved out to the valley in the late 80s/early 90s and got involved in both acid and the computer industry; there was a whole little circle of computer networking companies where everyone was all friends and they worked on each other's projects, and also partied (for lack of a better term) with each other.
John Markoff (johnm) Tue 7 Jun 05 08:12
Hi again --- I have this damn day job, but will post later today.. 8)
Ron Sipherd (ronks) Tue 7 Jun 05 08:16
Work is the curse of the writing classes.
John Ross (johnross) Tue 7 Jun 05 10:08
The flow of MIT computer folks to California started in the early 70's; several of the early Project MAC guys moved west to work with John McCarthy.
Public persona (jmcarlin) Tue 7 Jun 05 11:59
Hi John, It's not the topic of conversation, but many moons ago you published an memo from Pacific Bell security that annoyed senior executives so much that they temporarily emphasized security which changed my day job for a few years. Of course, the emphasis did not last. I switched groups when a lower level manager was put in charge and other functions were being added to the group. But at least we fixed some egregious problems. > People like Bush and Bolton really did > form their worldviews in the context of the sixties and under the > influence of the counterculture. That's a hard to swallow but I do agree. The next generation will hopefully react against them.
Public persona (jmcarlin) Tue 7 Jun 05 12:02
I forgot to say that it's your fault that I joined the Well: a well known denizen of the depths was here. As part of my efforts for Pacbell security, I was investigating the "underground."
Cliff Figallo (fig) Tue 7 Jun 05 15:02
Hi, John. Sustained thanks for putting the WELL on the map via the NYT in what must have been one of your earliest assignments for them. Having my picture in the Times redeemed me in my family's estimation after 13 years as a monk on the Farm. Although I'm most definitely a countercultural guy, I spent my 60s around Washington,D.C. where technology was (and apparently still is - see "FBI") a generation behind the Left Coast. Reading Doormouse filled in many historical blanks that have continued to exist for me between Howard's writing, Steven Levy's _Hackers_, Katie's books, and all the people I met through working for Whole Earth and attending the early Hackers Conferences. So THAT accounts for the look I recognized in their eyes. Hmmmm..... Whole Earth Catalog "worthless"? Ain't New York great? They know EVERYTHING back there!
John Markoff (johnm) Tue 7 Jun 05 22:01
Lots of threads here. working backwards: the Pacbell Memo (off topic) is a very curious story that I think I will step gingerly around (hopefully Kevin isn't reading this topic) 8) On the links between the mainframe research world and the PC world, there are a number of interesting connections from M.I.T. to time sharing to personal computing. One Thought - John McCarthy, who founded SAIL, is generally considered to be the "father" of timeshared computing. When McCarthy moved to the West Coast he built a pioneering time sharing system at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory . When the Homebrew Computer Club was created in 1975 he offered the laboratory for the third meeting and took an advertisement in the third issue of the club newsletter to form a "time shared" computing club. People tend to have difficulty stepping out of their paradigms. I did interview Dick Raymond, who now lives in Oregon. He was an economist at SRI at one point and a family friend of Stewart Brand. The Portola Institute that he created was instrumental in launching the Whole Earth Catalog.
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Wed 8 Jun 05 08:46
I wonder is (sumac) has read this book and if she wants to comment. I realize from personal experience that commenting publicly about one's father is a sensitive issue, but I thought I'd issue the invitation, just in case. the role of SAIL is one of the key issues that this book brings out. So many histories, including my own, concentrate on Engelbart's lab and PARC. But SAIL and McCarthy played a key role, as John brings out so vividly.
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Wed 8 Jun 05 08:59
perhaps she will. she has her hands full with family matters right now (not her dad, though) which may preclude her participation. in 1966, i walked across the stanford campus with an acqaintance (who would much later become my husband) to talk to willis harman about his lsd studies, hoping to join up. he was very straightforward, very engineer-like, as he explained what he was doing with his group. sounded good to me--very sane, very pragmatic, very careful. there was some queuing problem, and by the time i got far enough up in the queue to think about it, the stanford administation had closed it all down. yesterday i emailed another friend from that time to speculate whether we knew we were living through an historical moment at the time. he agreed with me--it was both yes and no. yes, sure we knew. it was a delicious open secret that the rest of the world simply couldn't see. yet at the same time we were all preoccupied with the day-to-day: meeting deadlines, finishing projects, getting the car fixed, watching marriages break up.
David Gans (tnf) Wed 8 Jun 05 22:36
In case some people are wondering, SAIL is Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, a legenddary breeding ground of geniuses and nerds. it also begat CCRMA, the center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, which is where I crossed paths with some of them geniuses. Off-WELL readers who would like to post a comment or question are invited to send same to firstname.lastname@example.org
Members: Enter the conference to participate