Weekend Poem: All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

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Right now, I'm reading Fred Turner's history, From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism, from which I'd extracted bits and pieces, start to finish. It's the rather glorious and unlikely story of how ideas about computers and networks fostered by the Cold War military industrial complex underwent a magical transformation into cornerstones of the counterculture through the person and network of Stewart Brand. Turner uses Richard Brautigan's poem, "All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace," to show that a good chunk of that cultural work had been completed by 1967, when the poem debuted on the streets of San Francisco.

Reading it now, I still find its mix of influences startling and intoxicating, even knowing what we do about how the Internet didn't make the world a utopia for the enlightened.

More recently, the poem gave its name to a recent BBC documentary series by Adam Curtis. Enjoy the original.


All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

I like to think
(right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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