Cool Tools!

Growing up in a world others made for you.
Published September 13, 2023

I had the great honor to have been interviewed for Cool Tools in late August 2023 and, to my surprise, it was published two weeks later on September 8! I am in no way prepared for a “bump” of any kind (as this and my other sites will attest).

That said, meeting and speaking with Kevin Kelly was a thrill and I was pleased with what I was able to say, copious hems and haws notwithstanding.

In the 70s and 80s, I grew up in Tuolumne county—a rural county in California about two hours east of the Bay Area. The county is home to the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians and is former gold rush country. When I lived there, it was dominated by mining, logging, ranching, and tourism, owing to its proximity to Yosemite Park and historic sites. As best I can surmise, in the 60s and 70s, the area was also colonized by counterculture refugees.

That combination of populations—displaced indigenous people, descendants of economically-motivated settlers, and recent urban transplants filled with “progressive” ideals—made for an interesting childhood.

Why mention this? I grew up with a lot of kids whose parents had progressive ideas. A latchkey kid myself, I spent a lot of time in their homes surrounded by Lego blocks and tattered copies of Whole Earth Catalog. In this laissez-faire environment, we had endless freedom to explore the world around us, to make things out of old tires and disused industrial equipment, and to gain unmediated experience with slippery rocks, rusty nails, and feral dogs. At the same time, our county’s education system was inexplicably well-resourced: I first used a personal computer in about 1978 (a Commodore Pet) and had access to cutting-edge personal computers in school thereafter. My high school had an excellent selection of shop and trade classes, but I also learned CAD and desktop publishing starting in 1987.

In college, I lucked out by attending the University of Minnesota—one of the large public universities that benefitted hugely from NSFNET. When I registered for classes in 1990, I was given an email address, a set of internet-accessible directories, access to an incredible array of campus computer labs, and dial-up access. By 1992, I had home TCP/IP access over dial up through the school.

Not until many, many years later did I connect these experiences to the work of folks like Stewart Brand and Kevin Kelly who understood the possibilities of digital (especially networked) technology and were instrumental in normalizing it. When Wired launched in 1993, I immediately became an avid reader and a convert to futurist. That year, thanks to my superb internet access, I also got my first remote job—working part time for a non-profit based in California—and in 30 years, I’ve only had to spend six going to an office.

Catch the episode here: