One night, I go with Brand and his wife to the Castro Theatre in San Francisco for one of the Long Now Foundation's seminars on long-term thinking. The speakers at these events can range wildly, everyone from Michael Pollan to Brian Eno, with many points in between. As the theater fills to capacity, Brand notes that Long Now doesn't attract only Silicon Valley folk. It draws in a younger, less established crowd as well. "The 10,000-year clock gives them a sense of – a belief in – a better future," he says.
I think about how the younger people in the audience perceive Brand, as he takes the stage that night. He is not cool in any conventional sense, nor is he slick in presentation or attire, like some Timothy Ferriss type. Nor does he possess the laid-back vibe of, say, Steve Jobs, with his faded Levi's and mock turtles. Brand has dressed that evening in a moisture-wicking, triple-stitched 5.11 tactical shirt with a half-dozen pockets, including ones hidden along the chest that are specifically marketed as just right for a small backup piece. Brand informs me that he has 10 of these shirts, presumably all in tan, gray, or pea green, the only colors I see him wearing. Two knives hang conspicuously from Brand's belt – not just a practical Swiss Army but also his "dress knife," an ornate specimen reserved for formal occasions. "If there's a rumble," a guy seated behind me remarks, "I'm sticking with him." A woman in her twenties, her hair emerging from a modish hat in several long braids, tells me Stewart Brand is one of the reasons she moved to the Bay Area. It's a statement one could have heard almost verbatim in San Francisco back in the 1960s, or really in any decade since. I mention Brand to a recent Reed College graduate at the seminar, and he suddenly dashes off, returning moments later holding a hardbound copy of his senior thesis, partly written about Brand, which he had stashed in the movie house's recesses. He thought about returning to San Antonio after college, he says, but realized he needed to be here, among people dedicated to the same dreams. "Brand showed us that technology wasn't a malevolent or necessarily a positive force," the Reed guy tells me. "Like Steve Jobs, he demonstrated that it's another tool in the toolbox."
Michael Phillips, a MasterCard company creator, helped Brand run the foundation that seeded out the earnings from the Whole Earth Catalog. "Underlying everything Stewart does is an optimism and experimentation," Phillips says. "He's always testing radical alternatives, believing that the best ideas will win out and lead to a better future."
Brand is still seeking new ways to bring people together, to shape what lies ahead. His latest venture: using genetics to re-create extinct species. There's the passenger pigeon for starters, the mammoth, the Tasmanian tiger. Brand says the technology to reconstitute these animals is already rushing forward, and he hopes to ensure that the process is carried out responsibly. The project is a suitable one for a person who apparently transcends time. All of us dinosaurs fossilized in our own pursuits – Stewart Brand will show us the way. He may even help undo a bit of the ecological havoc we've wreaked on the planet, never mind that some will consider it, as Brand puts it, "the ultimate trespass on the natural world."
"When you think and act long-term, you keep your options open for the future," he says. "You open up the past and the present."