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.