The Steve Jobs way: Exploring the intersection of psychedelics and technology

Silicon Valley's roots are in a radical counter-culture that once embraced LSD as a possible creativity booster.
Written by Tom Foremski, Contributor

The Psychedelic Society of San Francisco and Bay Area Software Engineers (BASE) hosted a talk earlier this week by John Markoff (above), senior science reporter at The New York Times, that discussed the influence of 1960s counter-culture on the development of the computer industry.

Image: Tom Foremski

The talk was based on Markoff's excellent book, What the Doormouse said. It's well worth listening to if you are interested in the early history of Silicon Valley and the often overlooked individuals who were vital to the development of the Internet, PC industry, and the software industry.

Markoff said he grew up in Palo Alto, in the heart of Silicon Valley, as it was just being created. He delivered newspapers to Steve Jobs' house, and also to the one that Mark Zuckerberg lives in today; "There goes the neighborhood," he quipped.

Markoff interviewed a lot of early computer pioneers for his book, but he said that he didn't find much evidence of LSD, pot, or other drugs having contributed to great breakthroughs; however, it wasn't the direct subject of his research, which was focused on the counter-culture of the times, primarily the anti-war movement and its effect on spurring the development of the microcomputer/PC.

But he did paint an incredible picture of how the use of psychedelics in the 1960s, when LSD was still legal, sparked great curiosity among engineers, and even companies such as Ampex exploring the use of LSD to boost the creativity of its engineers.

Douglas Engelbart, an extraordinary computer pioneer, (left) took LSD to experiment with creativity.
Image: Tom Foremski

Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, said that taking LSD was one of the "two or three" most important things he had done in his life. As Silicon Valley entrepreneurs seek to emulate Steve Jobs' remarkable success by adopting his confrontational management style, his passionate focus on design, will they also adopt his interest in psychedelics?

Daniel Jabbour, software engineer and founder of The Psychedelic Society of San Francisco.

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