UPS: In a networked world, Brockman's personal network in hard to beat.
BOTTOM LINE: .If you don't know John Brockman, you're probably not worth knowing.
PREDICTION: RightsCenter filesfor IPO, Steve Case and Bill Gates get into "it" at his annual Billionaire's Digerati Dinner, a "who's who" of the cyberworld.
ON THE COVER
The network has changed our
way of thinking? Meet artists, intellectuals and
Scientists around the world. From Kevin Kelly to Brian Eno, from
Richard Dawkins, to Clay Shirky, to Nicholas Carr
Don't assume for a second that Ted Koppel, Charlie Rose and the editorial high command at the New York Times have a handle on all the pressing issues of the day....when Brockman asked 100 of the world's top thinkers to come up with pressing matters overlooked by the media, they generated a lengthy list of profound, esoteric and outright entertaining responses.
New Calling all intellectuals. Borne from The Reality Club, an informal group of challenging post-industrial free-thinkers, the Edge Foundation was established in 1988 and now provides transcripts of its forums, seminars and opinions online. Among the many sharp minds that have been put to the test are scientist Richard Dawkins, social commentator Naomi Wolf, digerati David Gelernter, author Ken Kesey and shit-disturber Abbie Hoffman.
He's one of the best networkers, collectors and people promotors out there. His books and Edge Web site (www.edge.org) let him voice his belief in technology as popular culture for masses yearning to learn.
Now that AOL's mass-market muscle has taken over the online world, it's easy to forget that the Net has long been a forum for intellectuals to exchange ideas. The problem is that many of these ideas are debated on exclusive, invitation-only mailing lists. But on Edge, the brainchild of New York literary agent John Brockman, the musings of some of the world's most prominent academics, artists and scientists‹on topics as varied as genetics and affirmative action‹are available to anyone. Getting on the list can be tough (you have to know Brockman), but mere mortals can access edited archives of his high-minded monthly e-mail newsletter at Edge's website.
Brockman launched the Edge list in 1996 as an online incarnation of the Reality Club, a group of intellectuals who began meeting in 1981 in real-world salons. "I started the Reality Club because it's almost impossible to sit down in New York and think deeply," says Brockman. "This is a market town‹it's hard to get a group together to focus on serious works." Now Brockman gathers minds from around the world for online discussions and writings about such topics as relativity theory and Plato. In Edge's 52 monthly editions thus far, surfers can find, for example, transcripts of lectures given by Darwinian theorist Richard Dawkins and interviews with MIT computer scientist Marvin Minsky and musician Brian Eno.
Probably the most stimulating and attention-grabbing content has resulted from the site's periodical posing of portentous philosophical questions. In a recent edition from January, Brockman asked his mailing-list members to identify the most important invention of the past 2,000 years. Among the responses were the eraser ("because it allows us to go back and fix our mistakes," according to Ecstasy Club author Douglas Rushkoff), the clock ("It converted time from a personal experience into a reality independent of perception," writes Disney Imagineer Danny Hillis) and Copernican Theory ("It took a lot of intellectual courage and taught us more than just what it said," writes the Monkees' Michael Nesmith). Such answers, along with 600-odd postings on the same topic from visitors to Edge's discussion area (run separately by New York-based e-zine Feed at www.feedmag.com), prove that shopping and fucking are hardly the only reasons people go online.
Brockman started Edge in response to the notion of the "third culture," an idea described by C.P. Snow in his 1959 book The Two Cultures. Snow identified two types of intellectual cultures: literary and scientific. In the future, Snow posited, members of these groups would come together and form a third culture to disseminate intellectual concepts to the public. According to Brockman, however, the third culture that has emerged is more the result of scientists' becoming increasingly literate. "The literary world, which hijacked the word intellectual, has been brain-dead for 30 years. Now it's the scientists who are asking the big questions," says Brockman, citing the success of Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe, a book about string theory that hit No. 1 on Amazon.com's best-seller chart this past February.
Although it covers weighty scientific issues and has a recipient list that reads like a who's who of the digerati (including Bill Gates andVersion 2.0's Esther Dyson), Edge is remarkably low-tech and text-based. The irony of this is not lost on Brockman. "[Even though I'm] someone who has been pushing the envelope for digital communication, I keep coming back to books," he says. "The power of the printed word is amazing."
Why the elite mailing lists? Brockman chalks it up to lack of manpower. "I try to do everything myself," he says. "If I started to read a bunch of [unsolicited] e-mails, then I wouldn't have time to do Edge." And since the site's content is available for free, the greater public doesn't really miss out. According to Feed founder Steven Johnson, in some cases, the clearly focused discourse of closed lists can be preferable to the sometimes incoherent and rambling nature of open forums.
Whether or not Edge visitors decide to chat intelligently about issues on Feed won't change the distinctive content of Brockman's salon. Visitors are guaranteed a look into the minds and theories of people who make a living lecturing around the world and writing books. And for the intellectually curious who don't have the time or money to attend thought-provoking symposia and conferences, Edge is easy on the wallet. At least Brockman thinks so. "I think I've created the best graduate school in the world," he says.
John Brockman - the onetime hippie, Warhol groupie, feminine-hygiene marketing guru, "intermedia" performance artist, author, and, now, salon leader and literary agent to some of the world's most influential scientists and technologists - is barreling down 59th Street in Manhattan. Gaudily turned out in a wide-brimmed Borsalino hat and a royal blue double-breasted blazer, he's on a mission: He wants to be dull.
"Charisma gets you shot," Brockman says as he steps awkwardly over a puddle. "Nobody bothers to shoot bores. I like to say I'm 'post-interesting.'"
"You're not interesting?"
"Not not-interesting!" he snaps. "Post-interesting! Interesting doesn't pay. Well, it pays once, but not twice. I used to be interesting. I was, like, the It Boy. Being so interesting - well, it's not so interesting!"
www.edge.org A terrific, thought-provoking site put together by John Brockman and friends.
Recently, the author and literary agent John Brockman posed the question, "What is the most important invention in the past 2000 years?" He received thoughtful and often surprising answers from more than 100 leading thinkers, a fascinating survey of intellectual and creative wonders of the world.
Some people nominated inventions that were influential in bringing the world to where it is today, such as the printing press, calculus, the invention of the scientific method and effective contraception. Other interesting suggestions included anesthesia, plumbing and sewers, reading glasses, batteries, the concept of education, self-governance, and the notion that mathematics could be used to represent things.
Christopher Langton, a computer scientist, proposed the telescope, which "opened the doors to the flood of data that would resolve what were previously largely philosophical disputes."
James J. O'Donnell, professor of classical studies at the University of Pennsylvania, proposed modem health care — from antibiotics to medical techniques to the soap that doctors use to wash their hands.
Review your own life and imagine what it would have been like without late-20th-century heath care," he wrote. "Would you still be alive today? An astonishingly large number of people get serious looks on their faces and admit they wouldn't."
Douglas Rushkoff, a writer and teacher, proposed "the eraser. As well as the delete key, white-out, the Constitutional amendment, and all the other tools that let us go back and fix our mistakes."
Tor Norretranders, a Danish science writer, nominated the mirror, which became commonplace during the Renaissance. "Only with the installation of mirrors in everyday life did viewing oneself from the outside become a daily habit," he wrote. "This coincided with the advent of manners for eating, clothing and behavior. This made possible the modern version of self-consciousness: viewing oneself through the eyes of others, rather than just from the inside or though the eyes of God."
Howard Gardner, professor of education at Harvard University, proposed classical music. "Most inventions -- from nuclear energy to antibiotics -- can be used for good or ill," he wrote. "Classical music has probably given more pleasure to more individuals, with less negative fallout, than any other human artifact."
Other people nominated inventions for the promise they hold for the future. The computer, the Internet and biotechnology were leading candidates.
"The Internet will dissolve away nations as we know them today," wrote Clifford Pickover, an IBM researcher. "Humanity becomes a single hive mind, with a group intelligence, as geography becomes putty in the hands of the Internet sculptor."
Lawrence Krauss, who chairs the physics department at Case Western Reserve University, wrote: "While the printing press certainly revolutionized the world in its time, computers will govern everything we do in the next 20 centuries . . . The only other invention that may come close is perhaps DNA sequencing, since it will undoubtedly lead to a new understanding and control of genetics and biology in a way which will alter what we mean by life."
"Ultimately," added Robert Shapiro, professor of chemistry at New York University, "we may elect to rewrite our genetic code text, changing ourselves and the way in which we experience the universe."
Other nominations reflect seemingly simple things of life. Freeman Dyson, a professor of physics at Princeton, said hay was the most important invention. "In the classical world of Greece and Rome and in all earlier times, there was no hay," he explained. "Civilization could exist only in warm climates where horses could stay alive through the winter by grazing. Without grass in winter you could not have horses, and without horses you could not have urban civilization. Some time during the so-called dark ages, some unknown genius invented hay, forests were turned into meadows, hay was reaped and stored, and civilization moved north over the Alps. So hay gave birth to Vienna and Paris and London and Berlin, and later to Moscow and New York."
And Jeremy Cherfas, a biologist and BBC Radio Four broadcaster, nominated the basket: "Without something to gather into, you cannot have a gathering society of any complexity, no home and hearth, no division of labour, no humanity."
The entire list of nominated inventions is on the Internet atwww.edge.org/documents/Invention.html. Reading them reminds me of how wondrous our world is.
Edge is the electronic iteration of the Reality Club which started in 1980, which in a sense formalized what I did at these dinners. It celebrates thinking smart versus the anesthesiology of wisdom.
"Most of the people who are doing things on the Internet are interested in something called "everybody." They want to create some kind of monopolistic situation where you turn on your computer and type in your name, and it becomes their property. That's the antithesis of what the Internet provides in the way of possibilities."
[FROM THE EDITORS]: "The editor and literary agent John Brockman recently challenged the salon of scientists that he hosts on his EDGE Web site by asking, "What is the most important invention in the past two thousand years?" Luckily, my job buys me admission to that on-line gathering and the chance to kibitz with the professionals." .....
— John Rennie, EDITOR IN CHIEF
Monterey, Calif.'s delectable Cibo Ristorante Italiano was packed like sardines for John Brockman's annual Billionaires' Dinner at the Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED) Conference last week. Of course, there aren't enough billionaires on the entire planet to fill up the spacious dinning room at Cibo, but Upside Today counted six of them, and for every billionaire there was a gaggle of famous artists, writers, technologists, entrepreneurs and the like.
Edge hits the front page of Japan's leading newspaper
"What is the greatest invention (innovation) man has ever made? Democracy? Mozart? A U.S. writer posed a question — "What is the most important invention/innovation made in the last 2,000 years?", and more than a hundred renowned US and European natural scientists, including Novel prize winners, started an argument on the Internet. Their responses included "reading glasses for the elderly", or "the eraser". And the arguments continue."
#32 Edge Foundation: Literary agent and author John Brockman is the ubernetworker: His meetings and e-mail list feature some of the biggest names in the industry. Bottom Line: Brockman is at the Center of Multiple Revolution. Predictions: More Super Salons, Online and Off, as well as Blocbuster Book Deals
Recently, the author and literary agent John Brockman posed the question, "What is the most important invention in the past 2000 years?" He received thoughtful and often surprising answers from more than 100 leading thinkers, a fascinating survey of intellectual and creative wonders of the world.....The entire list of nominated inventions is posted on the Internet at www.edge.org. Reading them reminds me of how wondrous our world is.
Was the light bulb more important than the pill? An online gathering of scientists nominates the most important inventions of the past 2,000 years. Some of their choices might surprise you. Related Audio - By David Alpern
That question was presented on Thanksgiving Day to Nobel laureates and other heavy thinkers by New York author and literary agent John Brockman. Brockman, who presides over an eclectic gathering of scientists and science buffs, started publishing the answers this week on the group's Web site. More than 100 participants have taken the bait so far, and their answers are as varied, and in some cases as strange, as the participants themselves.....This is not a group that accepts limitations gladly. Some fudged on the dates. Some eschewed the notion of an invention as some sort of gadget, opting instead for such things as the development of the scientific method, mathematics or some religions.
Could one inspire German scientists for such a brainstorming? Hardly. In German it is already difficult to find a good translation for this neural activity, leading to fantasy an fun. Brainstorming: "procedure to find the best solution of a problem by collecting spontaneous incidents (of the coworkers)", torments itself the Duden, the leading German dictionary. You can imagine the result.
Admitted, the "Hirngestuerm" (literally for brainstorming) does not supply necessarily serious results. But it provides a lot of fun - for English and American scientists often reason enough to take part in it. This applies also to the debates, which are taking place in the Internet-salon of literary agent John Brockman. On his web page Edge, the representatives of the so called "third culture" meet: Mostly scientists (and few philosophers), who are not only concerned with providing pure facts, but also search for deeper insight and the meaning of it all. For John Brockman, who is selling the rights for their popular scientific books, these researchers reveal already the " deeper meaning of our life", by redefining ", who and which we are ".
One of the Net's most prestigious, invitation-only free-trade zones for the exchange of potent ideas is opening its doors. A little. .....Starting Thursday, two or three selected dialogs a month at Edge -- founded in 1996 by author and literary agent John Brockman -- will be open for public reading and discussion in a special area on Feed.