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Mar 30 2012

New Edge & Mondo: A Personal Perspective – Part 2 (Mondo 2000 History Project Entry #8)

By Luc Sala



“This was, for me, the meeting that rang true as an energy exchange and creative chaos event, where so many contacts and ideas and plans surfaced or were born, that I consider it on par with what must have happened in Socrates/Plato times, in Gottingen early in the 20th century with the physicists (Bohr etc.), a once in a lifetime creative fire.”

 

As I explore Mondo 2000 History, I find myself unreasonably surprised by my own recollections — particularly by the degree to which “new age” influences flowed through both the scene and the magazine.  My own exploration of this cultural and memetic milieu  is shaping up to be fairly critical, but in this commentary sent to me for use by the Mondo 2000 History Project, Dutch writer, publisher, and entrepreneur Luc Sala eloquently embraces Mondo as “a door to understanding and experiencing the convergence and integration of technology, new age, philosophy and art”… while also noting our distinctions from some of the more formal “spiritual” practitioners.  I’m always happy to have inspired anything… well, just about anything.

Luc sent us a long ramble… a mini-memoir for the project, which he has graciously consented to my publishing here.  I’m going to run it in two parts — today and Friday. I think it provides one of the many flavors of Mondoid reality.

I should add here that some of Luc’s impressions of how Mondo functioned as a business are just that… impressions.  Some aspects were slightly more conventional than he perceived… but that’s part of this project — differing perceptions and memories are part of the narrative.

R.U. Sirius

New Edge
The term New Edge — as in bridging information technology and new age — is a phrase that kind of developed between me and John Barlow and was first used in print in the Ego2000 magazines I published in the Netherlands, and was later used by the Mondo crowd. In the new edge; hacking, virtual reality and alternative (psychedelic) reality came together with the new age ideas of ecology, sustainable ecology, self-development and body awareness. The MONDO 2000 User’s Guide to the New Edge by Rudy Rucker, R. U. Sirius & Queen Mu, came out in 1992 (HarperPerennial). Funny enough, there was no connection with the Bhagwan/Osho  movement. Osho died in 1990 and was a major alternative movement — or with TM (Marahishi).

The new age folks in those days were a bit anti-computer — a kind of neoluddite stance — and certainly didn’t see computers as spiritual and psychological self improvement tools. The New Edge obviously did. The great amalgam of the Web information exchange hadn’t happen and movements developed still more or less independently. The internet at that time was limited (text only… the WWW-internet really started happening in 1993). I remember Barlow at the first (and last) New Edge Conference in Amsterdam that I organized in May 1993 as an evangelist preaching the WWW revolution, validating and appraising the then half-underground pioneering work of Rop Gonggrijp and the Digitale Stad. That I-Conference, in itself , with Lundell and friends, Barlow, the Extropy  and Boing Boing editors (Max Moore and Mark Frauenfelder), Werner Pieper, St.Silicon, Captain Crunch and many others was again an amazing meeting of the high-tech counterculture luminaries of the time.

The convergence, or rather the undercurrent of psychedelic consciousness in the computer scene in the 80s and 90s was not an isolated phenomenon, I have interviewed many luminaries  — like Philip Glass and John Allen of Biosphere 2 — who admitted that LSD or other highs had given them the inspiration for breakthrough work. Stan Grof, the Arica people, the whole new age movement with Esalen (Big Sur) as a focal point was (unofficially) very aware of the potential of the psychoactive substances. XTC and other more chemical entheogen concoctions were coming up in those days. The Shulgins were of course pivotal in that development.

The Mondo crowd was more than familiar with what happened in the psychedelic world, they were the spider in the web. It was of course R.U. who had the best connections with the likes of Leary and McKenna; both flagbearers in the psychedelic movement and both with good contacts in Europe, with Albert Hofmann and Werner Pieper (Grune Zweig) and Fraser Clark and Rupert Sheldrake (and the Huxleys) and the Beckley foundation in the UK. I met Terence and Leary many times, drove the Shulgins around Europe, stayed at Tim’s house, met very interesting people there and was with him at his house some months before he died when was already was very ill.

Tim was a hyper-optimist, always positive and stimulating new ideas and projects. He had his theatrical side. I accompanied him on some of his lecture tours, going from venue to venue, where he was often acting clown-like and over-the-top on stage. In private, and at his Hollywood home, he showed his other personality. He was a great host; had an immensely creative mind and was always open to the new, the hip, the different. He had early seen the importance of information technology as a broad tool and predicted the Cold War would end because of the exchange of information. He developed —  still in the Commodore 64 days —  psychological computer programs, a category that Bruce Ehrlich (Eisner) of the Island group called Mindware. His work in that direction was groundbreaking, but alas the development of mindware has kind of stopped. Here and there, the game industry comes up with psychological profiling and sometimes biofeedback, but the category kind of died out. That is, as publicly available tools, the whole profiling trend with Google and the social networks and the security industry is applied psychology, fishing and mining data like search patterns, contact links for patterns and indicators that predict commercial or other (deviant) behavior.

Tim was very positive and stimulating, when in early 1990 I suggested a VR-conference in Amsterdam. He was enthusiastic, promised to come but also supported my plan/idea about writing a book — at that time conceived as a kind of conference book, and promised to write and send some chapters. He actually did and this convinced and pushed me to actually produce the Virtual Reality book that came out later in 1990. Some of the visits to Tim were with Barlow. I remember we went to LA with Linda Murman and found Eric Gullichsen there, demonstrating his VR gear. Leary was a pioneer thinker and evangelist of how psychedelics and esoteric paradigms fit in with high tech and personal computers. He was well ahead of the world there. The Mondo connection gave him the possibility to spread that insight (or should we say belief) to the world. Tim was, at the end of the eighties, no longer seen as a serious scientist or even opinion leader, but through Mondo he got connected again to at least the mainstream counterculture. There, Mondo was pioneering the spider-approach or what is now called the starfish model of open connectivity (The Starfish Concept by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom). Everybody was equal (until the editing pencil of Queen Mu that is) and although there was a lot of internal struggle (relationships and money usually), towards the external world there was great openness.

Tim Leary was not only a keen observer; he was an optimist, saw a postplanetary future, and can be described as an technologically informed utopist. He believed — and this is were the new edge definition comes up — that technology was the bridge, held the promise for human salvation and happiness. Psychedelics were part of that bridge, but so was  technology like computers, smart drugs, life extension, brain machines, mindware. Although we were all influenced by science fiction, and the SF writers were part of the scene, I personally had some connection with SF author and IT-columnist Jerry Pournelle who also lived in LA. We believed that what is formed in the mind eventually would yield a reality result. The progress in IT was only possible because there were dreams and visions. All the great inventions came from people who dared to dream, the computer interface is a great example.

I remember a trip to Las Vegas with Linda Murman and Barlow. We visited Leary on the way from SF via LA, did the Consumer Electronics Show with its gadgets, new electronic wonder-things and some VR demo-ing; the Jan Lewis foot-massage press event in the Landmark hotel across from the Convention Halls; and on the last day bought some cheap watches. We then drove back via Death Valley and took some acid when we went over Daylight pass. In the mood of the moment, we then buried those watches in a ritual attempt to forget about time and tried to get over the Sierra’s passes to the coast. This didn’t work, as they were barred because of snow, so we had to go all the way north past Mono Lake (an impressive salt lake) and up to Lake Tahoe and then back to SF. Barlow, stoned to his ears, tried to cross over before, turned off the car lights in order not to alarm the cops and we drove, in a snow-ridden landscape, in the dark on those mountain road. It was fantastic. We thought we saw UFO’s, discussed the world and then suddenly Barlow stopped, seemingly for no reason. He turned on the lights, and at about 50 yards there was a chain over the road, obviously to prevent cars to cross the mountain pass there. But I will always remember that moment, for if Barlow would not have stopped, we would have hit the chain with maybe fatal results. Was this LSD, God or just luck?

Ars Electronica September 1990; Linz
see also http://90.146.8.18/de/archives/festival_archive/festival_overview.asp?iPresentationYearFrom=1990

The Austrian city of Linz had a yearly festival around electronic art — much of it about video and video art, but in 1990 virtual reality was the big thing. The spielmeister was Peter Weibel, who brought together a set of people in a setting I have not seen since — even the much acclaimed TED conferences didn’t bring this kind of creative change agents together. Virtual Reality was already there — and in the USA — as a research and innovation trend in the late eighties — becoming a fashionable thing.  I had seen quite a few demo’s, like the session early January 1990 with Eric Gullichsen at Tim Leary’s Hollywood house. There was a lot of talk; a lot of competition; the big ones like AutoCad and the small upstarts like Sense8 (Eric Gullichsen); Vivid Effect from Canada, and of course, Jaron Lanier, who defended his rights to the word Virtual Reality. This was done mostly by his somewhat deviant wife of the times who was also a guest at my party in 1990 and then took some LSD with Barlow, really scaring my kids when playing out their weird trip in my downstairs salon.

Although it wasn’t made part of the press releases and business plans to attract seed money for VR research, psychedelics played a major role in VR development, oftentimes one experimented with the systems using various substances; also sex (Ted Nelson coined dildonics) was part of the VR fascination. Virtual Reality was seen as a major breakthrough, as the psychedelici realized that this was a way to demonstrate that reality is a construction of the mind and a great tool for psychological (re)programming. This was one of the reasons Leary was so interested, here was potentially a technological drug, an electronic psychedelic.

Linz was an event that has shaped the development of VR, but also the development of Mondo and the New Age movement. It brought together the writers (SF), the techies (developers), the hackers (Chaos Computer Club), the entrepreneurs, the thinkers, the artists, the counterculture press and a couple of real change agents, like Barlow. Later I learned that even people from a whole different realm like Ra Uru Hu, a maverick astrologer who received or imagined the Human Design System, would become a great inspiration for my thinking in later years.

This was, for me, the meeting that rang true as an energy exchange and creative chaos event, where so many contacts and ideas and plans surfaced or were born, that I consider it on par with what must have happened in Socrates/Plato times, in Gottingen early in the 20th century with the physicists (Bohr etc.), a once in a lifetime creative fire. I went there, because some of my friends went there, and found myself amidst the great technominds of that time, but also the literary geniuses and artists. The program itself I hardly followed, but talking with participants, speakers and messing around with the demo equipment, it was an impressive time. I was familiar with many of the speakers and luminaries there, via my Mondo connection, my own publications, my work with brainmachines and my visits to the USA. So I joined the dinners and informal meetings; sitting in very Austrian pubs and places around the Linz market. It was a feast meeting all those people, participating in their discussions and getting inspired about the possibilities of this new way of using and integrating computers and information technology. There were interesting meetings, like with Morgan Russell, an early Mondo dropout who had some rights to the title and later (from Vienna or Hungary I believe) obtained archives and copies of Mondo.

The list of speakers and participants read like a Mondo 2000 article list, with Jaron Lanier, Warren Robinett, Brenda Laurel, Marvin Minsky, Timothy Leary, John Perry Barlow, Bruce Sterling, William Gibson, Jeffrey Shaw, and many, many others like Fluxus artist Willem de Ridder, de Vasulka’s (video pioneers), Richard Teitelbaum, Ivan Sutherland, Scott Fisher, les Virtualistes, Erich Gullichsen, Vivid (Vincent John Vincent), Chuck Blanchard, Scott Fisher, Ron Reisman, Derrick de Kerckhove (M.McLuhan Institute), Rudolf Kapellner, Ernst Graf, David Dunn, the Dutch Bilwet people and also Terence McKenna. Terence and Leary were the acknowledged leaders of the psychedelic movement. Both were well within the Mondo tribe and since Linz, Barlow and Leary started their tours and performances together. I remember how fiercely Barlow attacked Minsky and his meat computer approach. There was the deeper spiritual touch that wasn’t on the program and went mostly unnoticed, but in private conversations all the luminaries familiar with psychedelics expressed their deep spiritual roots, which didn’t surprise me, but enhanced my interest in the whole movement. Quantum Physicist Nick Herbert, later a good friend of mine, was in the program book, but I don’t remember him being there, and when in Amsterdam at my 50th birthday in 1999, he claimed that was his first visit to Europe.

The Ars Electronica festival had presentations, paid tickets for presenters, and awarded prizes like the NICA’s, but they always seemed to have gone to the wrong people. The real change agents were other people and although Linz made this annual festival a kind of hallmark event for the city, with a special museum around it, recently extended, and a Futurelab, I have a feeling they never reached the impact of the 1990 event again.

As I was planning a VR event later that year, I started producing a book about Virtual Reality somewhere in 1990. A few copies were for the party with Leary and Barlow and the famous VR-garden party at my house, basically bringing together all the relevant articles, although translated in Dutch, obviously nobody would give me permission for an English publication. This book, however, is really still the best collection of relevant material about the early VR-thinking and contains many contributions, but also illustrates my main focus always has been “a bit is only information if it bytes” meaning that information is more than data and that our present mountains of digital data have little meaning if they don’t bring real change. In that book many ideas and suggestions about the use of computers and information technology were written up, some so outlandish they have not been realized even today, like the ego-processor unit next to the CPU, GPU and also the general notion of Information as a new religion pops up there.

The VR event did happen, a few weeks after Linz and apart from Leary’s appearance in Paradiso (jointly organized with Ben Posset) the most important meeting was the garden party afterwards in my house. Many people came to Amsterdam after Linz, and they all assembled at my Hilversum house. Barlow, Leary, Lanier’s wife, les Virtualistes, the Vivid people (Vince and Sue), Dusty, many local luminaries like Simon Vinkenoog; quite unexpectedly Ted Nelson showed up… this was the party of my life! Everybody was totally relaxed, everybody mixed and I remember that I was actually watching the crowd form behind the trees in my garden, moved to tears. later I have met people in the USA, who told me that they were once at a party in the Netherlands, that was so impressive and stimulating, they remembered it ten, fifteen years laer. Who the host was, they didn’t know, but they did remembered the place, the people, the atmosphere.

Europe

In Europe, there were cyberactivities here and there. The hackers kept busy and had large scale events in Holland (thanks to Rop Gonggrijp cs), some virtual reality events; of course, the New Edge Amsterdam conference in 1993 with Barlow, Max More, Mark Frauenfelder, Lundell, Dusty Parks and many others, there was activity everywhere. I published Ego2000 in 1990. Wave, from Walter de Brouwer, followed in Belgium in 1994 (he has been quite an entrepreneur and figure in cyberspace since). In England good old Fraser Clark was the zippie man. He eventually spent some time with the Mondo crowd in Berkeley. Mondo as such was not widely distributed in Europe, but the cognoscenti knew about it, and through the New Edge Conference in 1993 most of the cyberactivists and hackers came together and mixed. The digital city folks and their crowd, including Mediamatics, Bilwet and de Waag developed and became a scene in itself, quite influential, but relying on government subsidies. Their focus was more on community and art and applied technology, less on the philosophical and esoteric. I myself was more involved with the Ruigoord community and my publishing and entrepreneural activities (for IT-magazines and Ego2000, for my Egosoft shop, my software activities (MSX) and later for the television channel). This did bring me all over the world, also to Japan where I had some contacts with Joey Ito and Kay Nishi. I traveled to Tibet, Nepal and India and usually connected with the alternative scene and writers there.

Mondo compared to other magazines

Apart from the obvious Wired, there were new age magazines and gadget magazines, but the convergence in Mondo was quite unique. Of course there were also hacker magazines and Extropy and Boing Boing, but as nobody really made money, there was no competition, more a camaraderie. As a professional publisher with quite some staff in those days in my Amsterdam operation (some 20 plus) I was amazed at how Mondo operated. They had some administrative people, notably Linda, but I never figured out how sales and acquisition were happening. It was mostly personal contacts I presume, but then I had little daily operational involvement. The Wired people were far more commercial, lied through their teeth about their success, which at a publishing conference in Zurich kind of got debunked publicly. They were not very ethical, but who is in big time publishing? Ad-selling is like that. Many people (Negroponte was also a shareholder and columnist) I assumed (wrongly, Rosetto has pointed out) that Eckhart Wintzen was a private shareholder and used his public company’s ad-budget, he obviously was proud to be involved in some way) used Wired for ego-boosting. Barlow once remarked, in a Wired Video, that media were not about informing, but about selling eyeballs to advertisers, I wonder if he wasn’t poking fun at Wired then. I never liked Wired. It was too material; too hard. Maybe this is because I turned Louis Rosetto and Metcalfe down earlier, but I never trusted the Wired approach and in the end their great plans of going public failed because of those reasons and finally the magazine was sold to a big time publisher, Conde Nast. Jane was a great human contact talent. She made this September 1990 garden party at my house a real success, but I couldn’t afford to hire her longterm. Of course many or in fact most contributors to Mondo ended up writing for Wired (and were paid, something Mondo couldn’t do).

Mondo, on the other hand never really was run as a business. It was a hobby; a social engineering venture by people with not so much interest or ability in the competitive world of publishing. Alison spend her heritage (and a lot of energy and talent) on the project. There were sponsors and benefactors, but Mondo was more an art project than a business. The same was true for my Dutch publication Ego2000. We made seven or eight issues and never made money. As the owner of the Sala Communications corporate structure however, it was my prerogative to have a hobby publication and it fitted well with my little Amsterdam cybershop Egosoft and my interests in what happened in the USA with Mondo. The editorial in Ego2000 covered roughly the same subjects as Mondo. I, of course, interviewed many of the Mondo contacts, added local content and articles, my travelogues, meetings all over the world, my hero’s of the time, it was obviously an ego-document. Kyra Kuitert was my main editorial assistant and we had fun making it, nobody asked nasty questions about cost or income. I had the money, the same as with my television channel Kleurnet a few years later. It was my thing and who would stop me, as long as the general Sala Communications corporation (I had shops and many other activities, digital picture library activities, computer shows and publications) made money, who cared? For me, work never was work It was personal development mixed with fun and a chance to meet interesting people. The enormous list of TV interview and programs from those days speaks for itself.

What remains of the Mondo spirit twenty years later is an interesting question. The cyberculture of gadgets and IT-connectivity has become mainstream, the future of Mondo then is a reality now in many respects. Mondo was fundamentally politically incorrect and fearless, now most media are all about fear. The new age has become a movement of fear (health, environment, 2012), not of hope. Society has lost much freedom, traded for the post 9/11 fake security that really hides the police state and the war on people. Freedom and Security have become opposites, not the Plato span of horses with a common goal, profiling the new and sneaky discrimination tool. Cyberspace is not the new democracy Barlow hoped for, but more and more a repression and consumerism tool.

Mondo was a magazine for freethinkers, made by freethinkers and there was a period of about 5 years (1990-1995) that this had a real effect, but then the mood changed, the war on people (war on drugs) intensified, the status of the US as a world opinion leader went down with ever more negative news, eclipsing in the 9/11 situation. Progress since then has been in the technology, internet, mobile computing and multimedia, but what really great music, art, literature or films have we really seen? What new science has evolved? We are stuck, captured in the rational and logical thinking, cut off from the spiritual and in a dead-end alley as far as science, environment and social justice are concerned. The financial crisis is not the result of manipulation by the banks and the system. We, the people, and our greed (hence the focus on the material because of our deep fear and lack of hope) have caused the crisis. The banks and institutions have just provided the tools and instruments. We have lost and cut off the contact with the “other,” the unseen, the irrational, the metaphysical.  We’re busy fighting our fears with our smartphones, social networks and hoping to find a solution in the digital bits. The chance we had to resize our worldview, to accept the adventure of not knowing; of not being safe and thus really learning has been handed over to the always-on security of our smart phones and our monitored world that will eventually lead to stagnation and loss of entrepreneurial initiatives. We are less creative, less daring, and as I personally confront this trend in public appearances and in publications of many kinds I am very disappointed that even the so-called spiritual and cultural leaders of our world are more concerned with their personal ego and maintaining their circles of influence than with new opportunities and vistas.

History now

Energetically, the Virtual Reality wave of the 1988-1994 period has died out. VR is now a technique used in engineering and the medical field but has not reached the wider society (it had some nasty health issues like now 3D) and the IT industry has focused on getting IT everywhere, all-the-time and always on. The adventure of merging and combining new technologies, new thinking, out-of-the box thinking, convergence of ontological views (i.e. the psychedelic) has stopped, we are all high tech neoliberals now (we think forgetting 2/3th of the world population). Mondo was positive, open, while mainstream media mostly have become closed, less pluriform, more politically correct. Mondo was a horizontal magazine, working from the premise (psychedelically inspired) that there is no ultimate truth, no general reality, there is individual truth and reality we can share and enjoy. This more horizontal paradigm does find its way… it’s now very noticeable. I think the (as yet not recognized) changeover from vertical (screen) computing to horizontal touch computing (tablets and pads tilted the interface fundamentally) will have a profound effect on hierarchical organization to come. It’s hard to keep the boss/subordinate model going when discussing things over a pad and with close finger-contact.

The internet has changed the world, and only Boing Boing has remained from those Mondo times. Wired is a gadget-oriented quasi-intellectual mainstream publication, and the Mondo crowd has spread out. Tim, Terence and many others are no longer there, and I am amazed that it took only fifteen years before the academic world started to be interested in what they now call late-century cyberculture and spirit. We will see how accurate and valid they will portray the Mondo and New Edge movement.

  • By Giulio Prisco, April 1, 2012 @ 1:44 am

    Thanks for this great second part of an important piece of history.

    To long to quote, but I wish to say that I totally agree with the last paragraph of the section Mondo compared to other magazines: “Mondo was a magazine for freethinkers…”

    I wish to ask Luc, RU and others, how we, as a society, can become more creative and more daring again, and what we, the surviving freethinkers with the arrows in our butts, can do to stimulate a New Edge renaissance.

  • By R.U. Sirius, April 2, 2012 @ 8:55 am

    I think these renaissances — periods of “irrational exuberance” of a different sort from what Milton Friedman meant with that phrase — sort of have to rise up organically… you can’t pull the stick out of the collective ass of a culture by force… although LSD certainly was an enema for the 50s…

    It could be that things will be constrained by a prevailing mood of crisis for quite a while… and then, maybe if we’re lucky, the real post-scarcity culture that we were sort of precapitulating during parts of the 60s, 70s and 90s will come into full flower…

    And then they’ll need a counterculture to that when that starts feeling like its own kind of stasis.

  • By Ivan Petrovick, April 7, 2012 @ 12:53 pm

    Hi how can i find out the name of artist that drew his illustrations in the magazine MONDO 2000/ He s jappanise or china as i know,,,thx

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