Someone Else’s Acid Trip (Ep. 193)

Listen now:
(Photo: Christopher Michel)

(Photo: Christopher Michel)

At first glance, Kevin Kelly is a contradiction: a self-described old hippie and onetime editor of hippiedom’s do-it-yourself bible, The Whole Earth Catalog, who went on to co-found Wired magazine, a beacon of the digital age.

In our latest edition of FREAK-quently Asked Questions, Kelly sits down with Stephen Dubner to explain himself; the episode is called “Someone Else’s Acid Trip.” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

Kelly argues that there is in fact little contradiction between his past and present. In fact, he says, the hippie origins of the personal computer represent one of the great untold stories of our times. “A lot of the earliest entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley … lived on communes and learned some small business skills, making candles or macramé, or whatever,” he says. “They were trying to augment human cognition, not trying to make a new industry.”

Kelly believes he may have been the first person ever to be hired online when Whole Earth took him on in 1983. He was a blogger long before that term entered the English language.

Today, at 62, with his gray Lincoln-esque beard, Kelly still looks more Amish farmer than state-of-the-art. Nonetheless, he spends much of his time pondering (and writing about) the intersection of technology and modern life.

In this episode, Kelly talks about his big, cool book Cool Tools (and the companion blog), a catalog of everything from a garden fork to the Longform iPhone app; his biggest indulgence: a personal two-story library a mile from the Pacific Ocean; oh, and that one time — just once — that he dropped acid.

(You may also want to check out our previous edition of FREAK-Quently Asked Questions, in which London mayor Boris Johnson reveals all).



Lee Parton

What happened to the podcast on California build codes and energy efficiency standards? I was looking forward to that one.

Robert Gilbreath

Thank you for finding and interviewing the most interesting and eclectic array of guests, most of whom I have never known of. Your interview shows are consistently informative and thought-provoking.


Not a fan of these. Super slow and superficial. Big podcast fan generally though!


Compared to the Interview with Boris Johnson, this was uch more interesting, and I wonder if it is due to the interviewee, or rather due to the questions being more suited for this one.
After all, asking an ideologically unconventional and influental person whow has made extraordinary life decisions about inspiration and childhood influences makes more sense than asking a politically influental, but ideologically conservative mayor from a wealthy family background these questions.


I would love to know more about the process you used to "zipper" the two recordings together. Once I heard that bit in the middle about that, it distracted me the rest of the way through as I was astounded at how natural the conversation went. It must have been more than just the one recording of the questions and then one for the answers, as the response and counters were so well entangled, including laughter. Pretty fun, but I now have to listen to the second half again without paying attention to the zippered-ness. Good stuff - I didn't know anything about Kevin Kelly, and am now ordering the Cool Tools, and probably others.


I am not sure why people think the hippie movement was anti-technology. Although the technology that concerned the hippies the most was amplifying sound. Many of the advances in sound reproduction and amplification came through efforts led by Augustus Owsley Stanley III - scion of a prominent political family from Kentucky. He was best known as the leading manufacturer of LSD in the 1960s. Owsley hung around the Grateful Dead - working as a sound engineer. This all culminated in the Wall of Sound in 1974.

Mark J

Hi Stephen,

Kevin Kelly said he tries to take one photo a day. With a cell phone, it seems like a very easy thing to do, but I didn't hear any other discussion about it. Any other info on this? Are they photos for his books, a daily journal or does he get some emotional benefit from them? Seems like taking a positive photo a day could boost happiness.

Marty D

I second this!


Bing big fan of Freakonomics, I discovered myself couple of months ago. What you guys discuss about economy is just touching me. I'm graduate student at the University of Washington, Electrical Engineering program. I toke couple of Economic courses and I love it. I'm thinking about changing my major and I think I'll be doing something great.

Thanks for Opening the Horizon to me



This episode got me thinking about the Fermi paradox. What if the great filter is a previous mass extinction event followed by the subsequent development of a civilization to utilize the energy encompassed in the extinct biota? Excellent point duting the podcast about us not being where we are without oil, and what are the odds that a meteor big enough to wipe out most but not all of the life on a planet hits a planet, and that dead life turns into energy for the descendants of the surviving members to utilize? Those odds can not be good.


Except that fossil fuels weren't created by extinction events, but by slow accumulation over hundreds of millions of years. So if there hadn't been a K-T extinction, intelligent dinosaurs might have evolved, and would now be burning the same fossil fuels that we are.

As for the Fermi Paradox, I often think that fossil fuels ARE the filter. A species becomes intelligent enough to develop fossil fuel-using technology (but not quite intelligent enough not to become dependent on it), and within a few centuries the side-effects render that species extinct, along with most other higher life forms on its planet.

Phil Persinger


Many, many years ago my father took me to a lecture by the young Frank Drake, who began his talk by writing the famous Drake Formula on the dais chalkboard. But he quickly added a graph of a curve going sharply asymptotic to the right; this depicted technological "advance" (I recall it plotted speed of travel against time). This was way before Ray Kurzweil. He then drew two closely-spaced vertical lines at the break of the curve: the radio window.

Drake's point: one can only expect our communicating w/ an extraterrestrial civilization while the latter employs electromagnetic waves for its media. Before radio, forget it: they're still burning peat. But at some point radio, lasers, masers, etc., simply become obsolete (think Star Trek "sub-space" communication) and we lose our means of accessing alien traffic. Drake's curve theorized that the radio window opens and shuts quickly. One hopes ("Oh, the humanity!") this filter typically appears before fossil-fuel suffocation or nuclear war.

I don't know if Fermi was kept informed about radar research during WWII, but if he'd had the chance to think the subject through he might have hit on "stealth" countermeasures. By extension, any technology which would allow interstellar travel to our precincts would presumably allow almost-perfect undetectability.

Arthur C. Clarke wrote "Any sufficiently-advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." What more could an old hippie like Kevin Kelly want than to tap into that?



I just want to know if the acid trip was everything he thought he would be? Did he really think he could solve humanity's most difficult questions, solve world hunger, archieve world peace, build schematics mentally for a working teleporter like Steve Jobs described his transcending clarity when tripping? LOL


I *loved* this episode. Mostly because Kevin Kelly is a hero, but also because I like this format. This episode was 6 stars on a 4 star scale, in my opinion.

Marty D

I really enjoyed this episode (as I love the previous one with London's mayor - SO GOOD!). These one-on-one interviews are very interesting and fun to listen to so please keep it up !


I enjoyed this interview very much and I am impressed by the way it was done with interviewee and interviewer recorded separately and at different times. Kevin's fusion hopes are closer than he implied as this Wired UK articles indicates.

Stephen J. Dubner

Just to be clear: the interview wasn't recorded at separate times. I was talking over the phone line to Kevin but, rather than recording the phone-line conversation (poor quality), we record my end in a radio studio and he records his end with his hand-held recorder. This is in fact very similar to how we record a lot of our interviews with people who aren't in a recording studio: we send a recording engineer to "tape-synch" their end of the conversation with mine, while we speak over a phone line. It's just that in most cases, that means an engineer goes to the interviewee's home/office with equipment, and then sends us the file, to be "zippered" with my conversation in New York; in this case, Kevin simply cut out the middleman.

Megan Culig

Oh my - got hooked with the catchy title; unfortunately found this podcast quite boring. Too much about a boring 50th birthday acid trip, his parents & tuna salad, and very little interesting information.


I liked "Someone Else's Acid Trip," especially the instrumental music that closed the podcast, a Rock number with a catchy melody and happy feel, a very '60s feel. Who did that? Where can I get it? Thanks.