The barriers to individual invention are falling away. Amateur scientists and inventors now have access to tools exponentially more powerful and affordable than those a generation ago. They can transform ideas into physical products in a matter of days. And they can directly distribute those innovations—whether a new engine or an entirely new form of life—to a market of billions. The days of dreaming big are over and the era of doing big has just begun.
In March 1968, Stewart Brand, a Stanford University–trained biologist, ex-Army paratrooper and Ken Kesey–inspired Merry Prankster, was sitting on a plane, reading Barbara Ward’s Spaceship Earth, when an idea struck. He would assemble a catalog to connect back-to-the-landers, amateur inventors and proto-hackers with the tools they needed to change the world. If new tools make new practices, as Buckminster Fuller once noted, then better tools would make better practices. In the fall of that year, Brand mailed out the Whole Earth Catalog, a 65-page booklet filled with information about how and where to acquire shovels and seeds, designs for Japanese homes and one-man saw mills, even the world’s first personal computer. In the introduction, he wrote what has since become a rallying cry for a new generation of do-it-yourselfers: “We are as gods and might as well get good at it.”