The vision of the world espoused by Fuller in his idea of the “Comprehensive Designer” allowed an individual an outside view of all the different systemic processes that the bureaucrat could not see having “been psychologically broken down by the demands of his work.” The “Comprehensive Designer” would have available to them all the information from all different types of industry and try to figure out how they can work together in the world they inhabited.
This was appealing to Brand because he appreciated “cybernetics as an intellectual framework and as a social practice; he associated both with alternative forms of communal organization.” The whole theory of cybernetics is a collaborative process of using information for a common good without any hierarchy. The “Comprehensive Designer” and cybernetics are very similar in the fact that there is a collaborative effort that did not deal with politics. It was all about the greater good of the community combining data that was gathered in an attempt to see the world’s needs and hopefully design technologies that would solve those needs.
Brand was a man that needed his individuality and he did not want to give that up. He even fought in a war not to fight for his country, but to fight for his right of individuality that he felt might have been taken away from him otherwise. After coming back from the war he studied the readings of Wiener, McLuhan, Fuller and Ehrlich who all believed in cybernetics which was a new way to look at the world. Fuller’s “Comprehensive Designer” idea was so appealing to Brand because it aligned with his own sensibilities in what he wanted to see the world looks like.
Fuller was someone that was considered a key figure in the world that Brand was a part of at the time. His “intellectual frameworks and social ideals” may have come from the military research culture but it was endearing to the avant-garde world that Brand saw with the USCO.
In the beginning I would love to say that the chapter starts very interesting and unusual, not like everything we read before. The chapter begins with a little Stewart Brand’s biography.
In the chapter named “Stewart Brand Meets the Cybernetic Counterculture”, according to Fuller “Comprehensive Designer would not be another specialist, but would instead stand outside the halls of industry and science, processing the information they produced, observing the technologies they developed, and translating both into tools for human happiness”. Fuller believed that “Comprehensive Designer” would be the key and would be able to help with world’s problems. He believed that all those technologies should be used to help society and not bring distraction, he “attempted to visualize the world’s needs then and in the future, and then design technologies that would meet those needs”. Later “Comprehensive Designer would be aware of the system’s need for balance and the current deployment of its resources”. For Stewart Brand, Buckminster Fuller was inspiration. He inspired Brand about the comprehensive designer and his movements. Fuller knew how to use technology in a way to benefit from it; he used different ways to help develop technology. Stewart Brand shared the same vision as Buckminster Fuller. He believed that society depends on every person in it; he used technology, he worked on finding new ways to develop society and connect people. Also Native American played a big role in building Stewart Brand’s vision. Native American Indians were all about equal community.
This chapter really hit home for me as it made sense of the through line I’ve been tracing in the ideas of many thinkers I’ve encountered over the past few years. The design theorists, smart city advocates, resource based economists and even transhumanists whose work I’ve encountered all harken back, at least in part, to Buckminster Fuller. Fuller’s notions of the world as an integrated system which only the Comprehensive Designer is suited to interpret grew out of his own ideological and experiential influences. Fuller had seen systems he encountered as highly flawed, such as industrial planning and distribution. In a manner of speaking, his ideal of the Comprehensive Designer blended a sort of pseudo-Marxist redistributive ethic with a Taylorization of processes and protocols throughout systems. The Designer who stands outside it all, discerning the overlapping nodes of systems and data, functions as a Frederick Taylor, assigning microtasks to accomplish the big picture goal efficiently and effectively. Fuller fused this mode of thinking with a passion for technological innovation, which would foster an anticipatory solutionism that would be superior to instruments such as bureaucracy. This easily calls to mind modern disciplines such as project management.
That Stewart Brand and his USCO colleagues would buy into this is unsurprising. Like Brand, Fuller espoused a rejection of institutional hierarchy in favor of integrated systems that took advantage of technological progress for the supposed elevation of state mankind required. This synthesis of technological spoils with liberated consciousness that might save humanity from the very real existential threat of nuclear annihilation, which Brand and his generation grew up constantly reminded of, gave a sense of hope to a group obviously in search of a semi-coherent ideological framework. Fuller’s theories also represented a break from the grim models of cooperativism espoused by the Soviets and perhaps espoused by some of the Communards counterparts on the New Left.
This cultural ethic is fairly clearly infused into the modern tech community, but suborned to capital in way Fuller might not have imagined, though Turner convincingly has made the case that it was always an innovation within capital with its roots in wartime industrial production rather than an outside methodology. Brand continued this trend with the organization of the Whole Earth Catalogue, even as he rejected the trappings of his society.
One way that Turner described Fuller’s vision of the world as having resources that were unequally distributed. Fuller related this to his daughter’s death from infantile paralysis, which he viewed as directly caused by the disease but “indirectly from a failure to distribute the world’s resources appropriately” (p. 56). According to Turner, Fuller believed that the humankind needed the comprehensive designer that would be able to gather and analyze data about what the world needs now and in the future and coordinate and distribute resources and new technologies properly to meet those needs. Fuller described the comprehensive designer as an individual who “would be aware of the system’s need for balance and current deployment of its resources” (p. 56). Unlike the bureaucrats, the comprehensive designer “would wield his power systematically” (p. 57) Fuller supports a vision of the world that is not a bureaucratic or hierarchical organization, rather a place where humankind benefits from the equal distribution of resources and technology.
I think this vision was so appealing to Stewart Brand because as Turner had described him, Brand was against hierarchical government and industrial bureaucracies. He also shared Fuller’s belief in the use of information and technology to benefit society. According to Turner, Brand looked for worlds that were similar to the world experienced at the happenings: “a world where hierarchies had dissolved…” (p. 48). Brand acted as a comprehensive designer at the Trips Festival by building a world, an environment without hierarchy or bureaucracy system, rather “a world in which he and the dancers on the floor were part of a single, leveled social system” (p. 67).
Buckminster Fuller’s book Ideas and Integrities had a tremendous impact on Stewart Brand. At the time it was published, Brand was working on and off with USCO (short for the US Company,) a troupe of artists that collaborated on multimedia performances, lived communally and “created art intended to transform the audiences consciousness.” (49) A New Communalist movement, USCO created the first “be-in,” calling it that because the audience members were to “be” a part of the experience, not just observe it. They used technology in innovative ways and many artists had to combine their individual skills and talents to create each installation or “happening.” As Turner states, “…they could see themselves as parts of a techno-social system, serving new machines and being served by them.” (58) This vision closely aligned with the writings of Fuller who saw technology as a way of social transformation and Fuller became an inspiration to Brand.
In his book, Fuller introduced his vision of the “Comprehensive Designer” as a person who would not be a specialist but instead would “stand outside the halls of industry and science, processing the information they produced, observing the technologies they developed, and translating both into tools for human happiness.” (56) Simply put, he would anticipate what was needed to solve a problem in the present or in the future, coordinate resources and design the technology to meet those needs. By anticipating the needs of the future, the Comprehensive Designer could save mankind.
When Brand was a college student he worried about the future, fearing both a nuclear holocaust and becoming an adult in a hierarchical world. His search for a more meaningful mode of living brought him to USCO, Indian reservations and the writings of Buckminster Fuller. Brand fully embraced Fuller’s insights and when in 1966, he promoted the Trips Festival in San Francisco, he became the definition of Fuller’s Comprehensive Designer. “[The festival] shunned hierarchy in favor of anarchic togetherness; it turned away from emotionally removed, objective consciousness and toward a delicious, embodied, experimental magic.” (67) In combining technology (images, music and lighting) with the New Communalist social ideals, Brand set the stage for new Comprehensive Designers to set forth across the country to do the same. Fuller’s vision of the world now seemed possible and Brand no longer had to fear growing up to be a middle manager or “worker bee” in a hierarchical society.
Turner’s chapter, “Stewart Brand Meets the Cybernetic Counterculture”, begins with the story of Stewart Brand and his upbringing. He formulated a negative response to technology upon the dreadful conditions of the Soviet Union during the cold war. He had a fear of seeming not as an individual that paralyzed him for much of his life. This however was altered when he met Buckminster Fuller. His ideology was one that was new to Brand and stimulated his mind to think differently. Fuller’ viewed a world that was a collaborative technological revolution. He believed the way to conduct this ideology is by using “Comprehensive designers” who organized resources on a larger scale and would utilize material production for the advantage of the world, mankind.
Fuller sees the world as an opportunity for technology to contribute to the ever-changing world while supplying “products and techniques of industry and redistributing them in accord with the systematic patterns”. The Comprehensive designer would serve as all positions needed to carry out the job while being an outsider from a bureaucratic position. It puts them at an advantage to use this power instead of being controlled by hierarchies.
Fuller’s ideas had such an impact on Brand and he had similar views of how an individual can influence and create needed resources for the world. This evolution would benefit humanity rather than harm it. Brand adopted this view and changed much of what he thought about technology and its power. Brand was intrigued by what could be accomplished and the possibilities for advancement in society.
In this chapter, “Stewart Brand Meets the Cybernetic Counterculture” Turner tells us about all the former counterculture groups that helped to create, shape, and define the views of the New Communalists. Through this chapter we get a better understanding of how their views towards the problems of the rise of technology came into play and how each group responded towards this new information technology that seemed to have created an imbalance in the world at the time.
The Comprehensive Designer named by Buckminster Fuller, was a person who “would not be another specialist, but would instead stand outside the halls of industry and science, processing the information they produced, observing the technologies they developed, and translating both into tools for human happiness” (56). Fuller believed that what society at the time needed was a person who would do what they can for the greater good. Someone who would develop new technologies, someone who had all the resources created by the industry and would distribute this with everyone when the time called for it. This kind of person would realize the struggle of balance in the world and would be able to fix it by giving the people what they needed. Turner states “Being able to see the whole picture would allow the Comprehensive Designer to realign both his individual psyche and the deployment of political power with the laws of nature” (56).
I think Fuller’s vision was appealing to Brand because it showed that technology and the information we got from it wouldn’t necessarily destroy the human race. It could make it better if we used it a certain way, as described by Fuller’s Comprehensive Designer. Also Fuller’s vision showed equality, not one person or one thing was bigger than the other. There was no hierarchy in his system, which for Brand and people of the New Communalists group was inspiring. Through Fuller’s beliefs that technology could work towards the greater good of society might’ve been what gave Brand his ideas that he incorporated into the USCO. This information technology could be ways to connect the people instead of tear them apart.
Based on the readings and with a clearer understanding of the counterculture, and the different movements of the 1960’s which were the new communalist versus the new left. Fuller’s vision was to explore how necessary was it to combine different aspect of life and disciplines to help the evolution of technology. According to Fuller’s description the “comprehensive designer” is meant to be a descendent of the cold war “psychologist”. His vision was to analyze data that was collected from previous institutions, data that could later on be beneficial to other individuals. Fuller’s purpose and what made it so appealing to Stewart Brand was that he “attempted to visualize the world’s needs then and in the future, and then design technologies that would meet those needs”. Brand shares the same vision as Fuller because his vision was in accordance to human needs as well. Moreover, I believe that the presence of the Native American, its structure and other components help to shaped Brand’s vision. The Native American was organized into tribes instead of hierarchy. Brand’s ideal “was that we were all one”, meaning that if we are all equal, why have hierarchy, political structure. As explained in the reading it had a major impact in his way of perception to him and others in USCO. In accordance to new era of information and how technology was captivating all the different movements emerging in that time, the ideal of the comprehensive designer was to set aside hierarchy and instead serve as equal to everyone.
Hybrid Assignment 10
This week’s reading caught my attention as soon as the story began with a little preview of what Stewart Brand wrote on his diary about the way he felt on his expectations if the Soviets invaded the United States. The short passage was extremely powerful to me and I was able to feel the fear with each word he chose to describe his terror. Along with the simple but descriptive language used in his diary, I can understand why the environment and era he grew up in effected his relationship and views of technology – as well as continuously living with a fear of one day, potentially being invaded. I was able to see that his childhood memories make an impact on the kind of person he becomes as an adult. The environment and exposure of his early years made a difference in Brand’s life, especially the way he viewed the world as a fight to become a stronger individual rather than as a society in whole.
Later, Buckminister Fuller became an inspiration to Stewart Brand with the idea of the comprehensive designer, and the vision of the world espoused by Fuller because of the way he was able to take advantage of technology rather than go against it. As Turner mentions, Fuller’s idea of comprehensive designer requires balance and current deployment of its resources. From my understanding of the reading, the comprehensive designer would have to gather all the necessary information, and then re-distribute it in ways that can be useful. However, in order for this to be successfully done, the designer basically needs to be trained, but at the same time think as an outsider. Through Fuller’s work, Brand is able to re-visit the way society can utilize technology in a way everyone can gather information in a more ‘positive’ way.
November 17, 2015
Digital media and Society
The Comprehensive Designer
In the chapter titled “Stewart Brand Meets the Cybernetic Counterculture” Turner further immerses us in the sociopolitical and economic environment that shaped the views of the new communalists, emphasizing how their relationship to information technology came about. In doing so, Turner introduces us to the technocratic doctrine of “architect, designer, and traveling speechmaker” Buckminster Fuller, who became an inspiration to Brand and his movement. What Fuller proposed was a view of the material world “imagined as a series of corresponding forms, each linked to every other according to invisible but omnipresent principles” (p.55) that also included the industrial production world which he advocated, influences the patterns of our natural world. To achieve this imagined world, Fuller deemed necessary an individual that was able to view the full scope, the “Comprehensive Designer” an individual who could “recognize the universal patterns inherent in nature, design new technologies in accord with these patterns and the industrial resources already created by corporations” (p.56). The purpose and ideals that the Comprehensive Designer evoked were very appealing to Brand for several reasons.
First, Fuller’s Comprehensive Designer and its ability to view the full scope satisfied Brand’s need to escape the limited scope of the fragmented “specialist” forged by the Soviet Union’s terror during the cold war. The collaboration and interdisciplinary aspect of Fuller’s doctrine offered Brand a new way to model the world in which an individual’s learning was not mandated by hierarchies, nor the state of war and politics but promoted a type of learning that required the individual to become a more wholesome and “learning participant”.
Furthermore, for Brand, growing up during the cold war meant growing up with the threat of human annihilation. Fuller’s ideology starves this fear by stating that “the proper deployment if information and technology could literally save the human species from annihilation” (p. 57) presenting the use of technology and other disciplines as vital for the evolution of humans. This aligns with Brand’s thoughts on the concept of evolution where he explains that “the responsibility of evolution is on each individual man, as fir no other species. Since the business of evolution for man has gone over to the mental and psychological phase, each person may contribute and influence heritage of the species” (p.45). In this way, for Brand, the interdisciplinary and collaborative aspect of Fuller’s ideas were not only vital to become a wholesome individual but vital for the human species as a whole.
To finalize, Fuller’s emphasize on the use of technology as a resource provided Brand with a way to think about alternative forms of communal organization. Through his work and communal living with USCO, Brand made use of technology, networking and collaboration to produce art. Tapping into the communal living and the communal production of art was in itself then, a counter move for Brand as it contradicted the rigid organizational structures of the cold war environment.