Stewart Brand, Steve Jobs and the 'personal computer'

From John Markoff's "What the Silicon Valley Prophet Sees on the Horizon" posted Wednesday by the New York Times:

In the 1960s he put an image of planet Earth on “The Whole Earth Catalog,” which became a bible for the baby boom generation. It won the National Book Award in 1972 and sold three million copies in the first three years after publication. Modeled in part on the L.L. Bean catalog, it was originally intended as a source for Mr. Brand’s friends who were going back to the land. Instead, it touched a nerve and became a manual for reinvention for an entire generation — including Apple’s Steve Jobs.

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...

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.

My take: A flash from the past. I hung out with Brand a couple times back in the day. Never could figure out what to say to him.


  1. Alan Birnbaum said:
    Slightly OT but from another prophet, the “Oracle of Omaha”

    Apple – our runner-up Giant as measured by its yearend market value – is a different sort of holding. Here, our ownership is a mere 5.55%, up from 5.39% a year earlier. That increase sounds like small potatoes. But consider that each 0.1% of Apple’s 2021 earnings amounted to $100 million. We spent no Berkshire funds to gain our accretion. Apple’s repurchases did the job.
    It’s important to understand that only dividends from Apple are counted in the GAAP earnings Berkshire reports – and last year, Apple paid us $785 million of those. Yet our “share” of Apple’s earnings amounted to a staggering $5.6 billion. Much of what the company retained was used to repurchase Apple shares, an act we applaud. Tim Cook, Apple’s brilliant CEO, quite properly regards users of Apple products as his first love, but all of his other constituencies benefit from Tim’s managerial touch as well.

    March 24, 2022
  2. The Whole Earth Catalog ranked up there with “Our Bodies, Ourselves (1970),” and far above “Steal This Book (1971),” in those days. I never tired of it and, oddly, Rodale Press’  « Organic Gardening » magazine.

    March 24, 2022
    • Robert Stack said:
      @Thomas: Ditto! I was an original subscriber to Coevolution Quarterly and saved every issue right up to the end. It had a really big influence on me too – at least I have something in common with Mr. Jobs! 🙂

      Moving all too frequently over my career, I finally got tired of “what do with all these?” and “where do I store them?” Yet I couldn’t throw them away and wondered whether in fact they might actually be valuable. Not necessarily valuable in the monetary sense, though I recognized that possibility too (esp for an aging, nostalgic/wealthy boomer – like Steve perhaps?). Yet I was thinking “valuable” in an inspirational way to youngsters in the next generation. So I donated the entire collection to the library of the Berkeley Ecology Center on San Pablo, where I reckoned they might help influence some young minds in the same way they influenced mine. They were delighted with the donation; I have no idea whether they are still there! Even if they ended up selling them to raise $$ at some point, it felt good!

      March 24, 2022
  3. Jerry Doyle said:
    @Alan Birnbaum: Excellent information Alan B. Thanks for sharing.

    For me, Apple’s stock share price is correlated with its potential for driving new revenues and profits. I see Apple this decade moving assertively into the industrial sectors of Health & Wellness, transportation, financial services and entertainment. Apple is positioned to drive significantly new sources of revenues from these industrial sectors where now, it only is scratching the surface in each of them. It is for this reason why I do not see Apple’s repurchasing program slowing in the years to come. Apple will be producing larger new sums of cash on hand that it will have similar difficulty as it has had in the past in finding ways to deploy. I do not see Apple changing its behavior in modest acquisitions or being able to exhaust this cash through R&D. Instead, I see Apple continuing its pace of buybacks. The way WS treats Apple, the company’s stock always will be undervalue for buying back.

    March 24, 2022
    • Chris De Armond said:
      I think you are right about the different industrial sectors in the future. I believe the big sleeper area is financial services. When Apple started their buyback program, I wondered why they didn’t get into something financial with all that cash. I think even Apple grossly under estimated how gargantuan their cash generation would become.

      Then, when they started the buy iPhones on monthly payments program, I found it strange that they didn’t self fund that program.

      I think the recently announced purchase of the UK based Credit Kudos Ltd., a credit scoring startup, is instructive to the future. I would also look to see any future highly experienced “financial” hires.

      Consider that Apple sells in almost all countries and thus works with all their different currencies. Apple in past earnings calls have discussed currency hedging as part of their normal fiscal operations.

      Also, consider what they must be learning in their Apple Card partnership with Goldman, and the individuals they are working with must be a deep talent pool.

      I have some thoughts on where they might be headed and will be waiting and watching with interest.

      March 24, 2022
      • Jerry Doyle said:
        @Chris De Armomd: Thanks for the insight and comments on the financial services Chris. I agree fully. Apple never rushes into anything. Little doubt Apple is cultivating carefully how to exploit the financial services side of their business. We all know the financial services industry is as huge as the transportation sector and up there with Health and Wellness.

        March 24, 2022
  4. Rodney Avilla said:
    “the next important trend after psychedelic drugs”

    Having attended high school in the 1960’s, and seeing the effects of drugs on my generation over the last 50 years, I think I must be missing something if psychedelic drugs were the most important trend before computers.

    March 24, 2022
    • David Emery said:
      Well, I was about 1/2 decade behind you. By then, there was a split between those who continued the “if you can remember, you weren’t there” approach and those who actually decided that living in The Real World ™ was probably more important.

      But I persist in believing that, for better and worse, Baby Boomers are responsible for the Internet.

      March 24, 2022

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