Albert Einstein Writes the 1949 Essay “Why Socialism?” and Attempts to Find a Solution to the “Grave Evils of Capitalism”

Image by Ferdinand Schmutzer, via Wikimedia Commons

Albert Einstein was a complicated human being, with a wide range of interests. His personality seemed balanced between a certain chilliness when it came to personal matters, and a great deal of warmth and compassion when it came to the wider human family. The physicist struck up friendships with famed American activists Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, and W.E.B. Du Bois, and he championed the cause of Civil Rights in the U.S. He professed a deep admiration for Gandhi, and praised him several times in letters and speeches. And in 1955, just days before his death, Einstein collaborated with another outspoken public intellectual, Bertrand Russell, on a peace manifesto, which was signed by six other scientists.

Einstein saw a public role for scientists in matters social, political, and even economic. In 1949, he published an article in the Monthly Review titled “Why Socialism?” Anticipating his critics, he begins by asking “is it advisable for one who is not an expert on economic and social issues to express views on the subject of socialism?” To which he replies, “I believe for a number of reasons that it is.”


Einstein goes on, sounding something like a combination of Karl Marx and E.O. Wilson, to elaborate the theoretical basis for socialism as he sees it, first describing what Marx called “primitive accumulation” and what the socialist economist Thorstein Veblen called “’the predatory phase’ of human development.”

…most of the major states of history owed their existence to conquest. The conquering peoples established themselves, legally and economically, as the privileged class of the conquered country. They seized for themselves a monopoly of the land ownership and appointed a priesthood from among their own ranks. The priests, in control of education, made the class division of society into a permanent institution and created a system of values by which the people were thenceforth, to a large extent unconsciously, guided in their social behavior.

The science of economics, as it stands, writes Einstein, still belongs “to that phase.” Such “laws as we can derive” from “the observable economic facts… are not applicable to other phases.” These facts simply describe the predatory state of affairs, and Einstein implies that not even economists have sufficient methods to definitively answer the question “why socialism?”—“economic science in its present state can throw little light on the socialist society of the future.” We should not assume, then, he goes on, “that experts are the only ones who have a right to express themselves on questions affecting the organization of society.” Einstein himself doesn’t pretend to have all the answers. He ends his essay, in fact, with a few questions addressing “some extremely difficult socio-political problems,” of the kind that attend every debate about socialism:

…how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?

Nevertheless, Einstein is “convinced” that the only way to eliminate the “grave evils” of capitalism is “through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals.” For Einstein, the “worst evil” of predatory capitalism is the “crippling of individuals” through an educational system that emphasizes an “exaggerated competitive attitude” and trains students “to worship acquisitive success.” But the problems extend far beyond the individual and into the very nature of the political order.

Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands… The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.

The political economy Einstein describes is one often lambasted by right libertarians as an impure variety of crony capitalism, one not worthy of the name, but the physicist is skeptical of the claim, writing “there is no such thing as a pure capitalist society.” Private owners always secure their privileges through the manipulation of the political and educational systems and the mass media.

The predatory situation Einstein observes is one of extreme alienation among all classes; “All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naïve, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.” Einstein believed that devotion should take the form of a socialist economy that promotes both the physical wellbeing and the political rights of everyone. But he did not presume to know exactly what such an economic future would look like, nor how it might come into being. Read his full essay, "Why Socialism?" here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Charles Darwin & Charles Dickens’ Four-Hour Work Day: The Case for Why Less Work Can Mean More Productivity

We all operate at different levels of ambition: some just want to get by and enjoy themselves, while others strive to make achievements with as long-lasting an impact on humanity as possible. If we think of candidates for the latter category, Charles Darwin may well come to mind, at least in the sense that the work he did as a naturalist, and more so the theory of evolution that came out of it, has ensured that we remember his name well over a century after his death and will surely continue to do so centuries hence. But research into Darwin's working life suggests something less than workaholism — and indeed, that he put in a fraction of the number of hours we associate with serious ambition.

"After his morning walk and breakfast, Darwin was in his study by 8 and worked a steady hour and a half," writes Nautilus' Alex Soojung-kim Pang. "At 9:30 he would read the morning mail and write letters. At 10:30, Darwin returned to more serious work, sometimes moving to his aviary, greenhouse, or one of several other buildings where he conducted his experiments. By noon, he would declare, 'I’ve done a good day’s work,' and set out on a long walk." After this walk he would answer letters, take a nap, take another walk, go back to his study, and then have dinner with the family. Darwin typically got to bed, according to a daily schedule drawn from his son Francis' reminiscences of his father, by 10:30.


"On this schedule he wrote 19 books, including technical volumes on climbing plants, barnacles, and other subjects," writes Pang, and of course not failing to mention "The Origin of Species, probably the single most famous book in the history of science, and a book that still affects the way we think about nature and ourselves." Another textually prolific Victorian Englishman named Charles, adhering to a similarly non-life-consuming work routine, managed to produce — in addition to tireless letter-writing and campaigning for social reform — hundreds of short stories and articles, five novellas, and fifteen novels including Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations

"After an early life burning the midnight oil," writes Pang, Charles Dickens "settled into a schedule as 'methodical or orderly' as a 'city clerk,' his son Charley said. Dickens shut himself in his study from 9 until 2, with a break for lunch. Most of his novels were serialized in magazines, and Dickens was rarely more than a chapter or two ahead of the illustrators and printer. Nonetheless, after five hours, Dickens was done for the day." Pang finds that may other successful writers have kept similarly restrained work schedules, from Anthony Trollope to Alice Munro, Somerset Maugham to Gabriel García Márquez, Saul Bellow to Stephen King. He notes similar habits in science and mathematics as well, including Henri Poincaré and G.H. Hardy.

Research by Pang and others into work habits and productivity have recently drawn a great deal of attention, pointing as it does to the question of whether we might all consider working less in order to work better. "Even if you enjoy your job and work long hours voluntarily, you’re simply more likely to make mistakes when you’re tired," writes the Harvard Business Review's Sarah Green Carmichael. What's more, "work too hard and you also lose sight of the bigger picture. Research has suggested that as we burn out, we have a greater tendency to get lost in the weeds." This discovery actually dates back to Darwin and Dickens' 19th century: "When organized labor first compelled factory owners to limit workdays to 10 (and then eight) hours, management was surprised to discover that output actually increased – and that expensive mistakes and accidents decreased."

This goes just as much for academics, whose workweeks, "as long as they are, are not nearly as lengthy as those on Wall Street (yet)," writes Times Higher Education's David Matthews in a piece on the research of University of Pennsylvania professor (and ex-Goldman Sachs banker) Alexandra Michel. "Four hours a day is probably the limit for those looking to do genuinely original research, she says. In her experience, the only people who have avoided burnout and achieved some sort of balance in their lives are those sticking to this kind of schedule." Michel finds that "because academics do not have their hours strictly defined and regulated (as manual workers do), 'other controls take over. These controls are peer pressure.'" So at least we know the first step on the journey toward viable work habits: regarding the likes of Darwin and Dickens as your peers.

via Nautilus

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Carl Sagan Sent Music & Photos Into Space So That Aliens Could Understand Human Civilization (Even After We’re Gone)

A popular thought experiment asks us to imagine an advanced alien species arriving on Earth, not in an H.G. Wells-style invasion, but as advanced, bemused, and benevolent observers. “Wouldn’t they be appalled,” we wonder, “shocked, confused at how backward we are?” It’s a purely rhetorical device—the secular equivalent of taking a “god’s eye view” of human folly. Few people seriously entertain the possibility in polite company. Unless they work at NASA or the SETI program.

In 1977, upon the launching of Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, a committee working under Carl Sagan produced the so-called “Golden Records,” actual phonographic LPs made of copper containing “a collection of sounds and images,” writes Joss Fong at Vox, “that will probably outlast all human artifacts on Earth.” While they weren’t preparing for a visitation on Earth, they did—relying not on wishful thinking but on the controversial Drake Equation—fully expect that other technological civilizations might well exist in the cosmos, and assumed a likelihood we might encounter one, at least via remote.


Sagan tasked himself with compiling what he called a “bottle” in “the cosmic ocean,” and something of a time capsule of humanity. Over a year’s time, Sagan and his team collected 116 images and diagrams, natural sounds, spoken greetings in 55 languages, printed messages, and musical selections from around the world--things that would communicate to aliens what our human civilization is essentially all about. The images were encoded onto the records in black and white (you can see them all in the Vox video above in color). The audio, which you can play in its entirety below, was etched into the surface of the record. On the cover were etched a series of pictographic instructions for how to play and decode its contents. (Scroll over the interactive image at the top to see each symbol explained.)

Fong outlines those contents, writing, “any aliens who come across the Golden Record are in for a treat.” That is, if they are able to make sense of it and don’t find us horribly backward. Among the audio selections are greetings from then-UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, whale songs, Bach’s Brandenberg Concerto No. 2 in F, Senegalese percussion, Aborigine songs, Peruvian panpipes and drums, Navajo chant, Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night” (playing in the Vox video), more Bach, Beethoven, and “Johnny B. Goode.” Challenged over including “adolescent” rock and roll, Sagan replied, “there are a lot of adolescents on the planet.” The Beatles reportedly wanted to contribute “Here Comes the Sun,” but their record company wouldn’t allow it, presumably fearing copyright infringement from aliens.

Also contained in the spacefaring archive is a message from then-president Jimmy Carter, who writes optimistically, “We are a community of 240 million human beings among the more than 4 billion who inhabit planet Earth. We human beings are still divided into nation states, but these states are rapidly becoming a single global civilization.” The messages on Voyagers 1 and 2, Carter forecasts, are “likely to survive a billion years into our future, when our civilization is profoundly altered and the surface of the Earth may be vastly changed.” The team chose not to include images of war and human cruelty.

We only have a few years left to find out whether either Voyager will encounter other beings. “Incredibly,” writes Fong, the probes “are still communicating with Earth—they aren’t expected to lose power until the 2020s.” It seems even more incredible, forty years later, when we consider their primitive technology: “an 8-track memory system and onboard computers that are thousands of times weaker than the phone in your pocket.”

The Voyagers were not the first probes sent to interstellar space. Pioneer 10 and 11 were launched in 1972 and 1973, each containing a Sagan-designed aluminum plaque with a few simple messages and depictions of a nude man and woman, an addition that scandalized some puritanical critics. NASA has since lost touch with both Pioneers, but you may recall that in 2006, the agency launched the New Horizons probe, which passed by Pluto in 2015 and should reach interstellar space in another thirty years.

Perhaps due to the lack of the departed Sagan’s involvement, the latest “bottle” contains no introductions. But there is time to upload some, and one of the Golden Record team members, Jon Lomberg, wants to do just that, sending a crowdsourced “message to the stars.” Lomberg’s New Horizon’s Message Initiative is a “global project that brings the people of the world together to speak as one.” The limitations of analog technology have made the Golden Record selections seem quite narrow from our data-saturated point of view. The new message might contain almost anything we can imagine. Visit the project's site to sign the petition, donate, and consider, just what would you want an alien civilization to hear, see, and understand about the best of humanity circa 2017?

via Ezra Klein/Vox

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Evelyn Glennie (a Musician Who Happens to Be Deaf) Shows How We Can Listen to Music with Our Entire Bodies

Composer and percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, above, feels music profoundly. For her, there is no question that listening should be a whole body experience:

Hearing is basically a specialized form of touch. Sound is simply vibrating air which the ear picks up and converts to electrical signals, which are then interpreted by the brain. The sense of hearing is not the only sense that can do this, touch can do this too. If you are standing by the road and a large truck goes by, do you hear or feel the vibration? The answer is both. With very low frequency vibration the ear starts becoming inefficient and the rest of the body’s sense of touch starts to take over. For some reason we tend to make a distinction between hearing a sound and feeling a vibration, in reality they are the same thing. It is interesting to note that in the Italian language this distinction does not exist. The verb ‘sentire’ means to hear and the same verb in the reflexive form ‘sentirsi’ means to feel.

It’s a philosophy born of necessity—her hearing began to deteriorate when she was 8, and by the age of 12, she was profoundly deaf. Music lessons at that time included touching the wall of the practice room to feel the vibrations as her teacher played.

While she acknowledges that her disability is a publicity hook, it’s not her preferred lede, a conundrum she explores in her "Hearing Essay." Rather than be celebrated as a deaf musician, she’d like to be known as the musician who is teaching the world to listen.

In her TED Talk, How To Truly Listen, she differentiates between the ability to translate notations on a musical score and the subtler, more soulful skill of interpretation. This involves connecting to the instrument with every part of her physical being. Others may listen with ears alone. Dame Evelyn encourages everyone to listen with fingers, arms, stomach, heart, cheekbones… a phenomenon many teenagers experience organically, no matter what their earbuds are plugging.

And while the vibrations may be subtler, her philosophy could cause us to listen more attentively to both our loved ones and our adversaries, by staying attuned to visual and emotional pitches, as well as slight variations in volume and tone.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  She’ll is appearing onstage in New York City this June as one of the clowns in Paul David Young’s Faust 3. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Rare Footage Shows US and British Soldiers Getting Dosed with LSD in Government-Sponsored Tests (1958 + 1964)

We’re usually right to reserve judgement when it comes to conspiracy theories. But the reason they often sound plausible is a compelling one: What we do know about the secret activities of agencies like the CIA, FBI, KGB, NSA, etc. often points to a surreal, nefarious, extra-legal dimension full of plots Kurt Vonnegut or Philip K. Dick might have written. In such a dimension was born Project MK-ULTRA, the mind control program developed by the CIA in the early fifties and only officially stopped in 1973.

Most famous for introducing a young hospital orderly named Ken Kesey to LSD when he volunteered for an experiment—and thus acting as a primary cause of the Acid-fueled Haight-Ashbury movement to come—MK-ULTRA tested drugs, hypnosis, sensory deprivation, and psychological torture as a means of manipulating interrogation subjects. At the same time as the CIA drugged willing and unwilling participants, Army intelligence conducted research into using LSD as a mind control agent.

Raffi Khatchadodourian tells the story in The New Yorker of Dr. Van Murray Sim, founder of the Army’s Edgewood Arsenal program of clinical research on psychochemicals. To his colleagues, Sim “was like Dr. Strangelove; he was a leader; he was the ‘Mengele of Edgewood’... manipulative and vengeful, ethically shortsighted, incoherently rambling... and devoted to chemical-warfare research.” He volunteered himself as a test subject for VX, a lethal nerve agent, for Red Oil, a “highly potent synthetic version of marijuana,” and for other hallucinogens designed for “psychochemical warfare.”

Sim dosed himself several times with LSD and in 1957 proposed a series of “practical experiments” with the drug at Edgewood. “It was deemed important,” writes Khatchadodourian, “to conduct LSD tests on people who were provided no information about what the drug would do.” You can see film of one of those tests above, conducted in 1958 on Army volunteers who, the narrator tells us, “responded like well-trained soldiers to the request: immediately and without question.”

The soldiers are put through a series of drills. Then they are dosed and drilled again. There is much laughter among the squad, but one man succumbed to such severe depression that five minutes after they begin, the medical officers “end his participation.” After a few more minutes, “the men found it difficult to obey orders. And soon the results were chaos," the narrator says. In reality, as we can see, the soldiers seemed happy and relaxed, not in a "chaotic" state, though their unwillingness to obey would certainly seem so to the brass.

British intelligence also tested LSD on its troops. In the film above from 1964, several armed British Marines are given a dose and sent out into the field exercises. The results are strikingly similar. Immediately after taking the field the drugged marines begin to giggle, laugh, and relax. But one man “is more severely affected than the others, losing all contact with reality, dropping his rifle, and becoming unable to take part in the operation. In fact, he has to be withdrawn from the exercise a few minutes later.” The remainder of the test subjects collapse in fits of hilarity.

“In the end,” writes Rich Remsberg at NPR, the U.S. Army decided that LSD “was too expensive” and “unstable once airborne,” though it did lead to something called Agent BZ, “which was weaponized but never used in combat.” But at the peak of its testing programs, Army intelligence, the CIA, and even Operation Paperclip—the secretive program that recruited former Nazi scientists into its ranks—showed an obsession with the drug, amassing huge supplies of it, and testing it on witting and unwitting subjects alike.

In one operation, called “Midnight Climax,” unsuspecting clients “at CIA brothels in New York and San Francisco were slipped LSD and then monitored through one-way mirrors to see how they reacted,” writes David Hambling at Wired. “Colleagues were also considered fair game for secret testing, to the point where a memo was issued instructing that the punch bowls at office Christmas parties were not to be spiked” with acid.

While the CIA pulled pranks—and inspired Kesey’s Merry Pranksters—the Army took its program overseas to Europe under the aegis of “Operation Special Purpose.” Even today, Khatchadourian writes, “the non-Americans who were tested have still not been identified.” Operation Special Purpose’s experiments “were disastrous, offering little or no useful intelligence, and risking untold psychological damage to the subjects.” The Cold Warriors in charge thought of the drug as a weapon, and threw ethics and scientific caution to the wind. In certain tests, interrogators intended “to cause maximum anxiety and fear.” They degraded and threatened subjects “as long as the drug was effective: eight hours, or possibly more.”

In recent years, LSD research has made a promising return, and has shown that, when used for purposes other than mind control, torture, and manipulation, the hallucinogenic compound might actually have beneficial effects on mental health and well-being. Today’s research builds on experiments conducted by psychiatrists at the same time as MK-ULTRA and Operation Special Purpose. “From the 1950s through the early 1970s,” writes the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), “psychiatrists, therapists, and researchers administered LSD to thousands of people for alcoholism, as well as for anxiety and depression" in terminal patients.

As in the tests in the films above, they found that—with notable exceptions—the drug made people happier, more relaxed, and less afraid of death. “When used by people without a family history or risk of psychological problems,” reported The Washington Post in a story last year on new research, “psychedelics can make us kinder, calmer and better at our jobs. They can help us solve problems more creatively and make us more open-minded and generous.” Perhaps part of the government conspiracy to use hallucinogenic drugs for ill involved suppressing all of the ways they could be used for good.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Experts Predict When Artificial Intelligence Will Take Our Jobs: From Writing Essays, Books & Songs, to Performing Surgery and Driving Trucks

Image via Flickr Commons

We know they’re coming. The robots. To take our jobs. While humans turn on each other, find scapegoats, try to bring back the past, and ignore the future, machine intelligences replace us as quickly as their designers get them out of beta testing. We can’t exactly blame the robots. They don’t have any say in the matter. Not yet, anyway. But it’s a fait accompli say the experts. “The promise,” writes MIT Technology Review, “is that intelligent machines will be able to do every task better and more cheaply than humans. Rightly or wrongly, one industry after another is falling under its spell, even though few have benefited significantly so far.”

The question, then, is not if, but “when will artificial intelligence exceed human performance?” And some answers come from a paper called, appropriately, “When Will AI Exceed Human Performance? Evidence from AI Experts.” In this study, Katja Grace of the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford and several of her colleagues “surveyed the world’s leading researchers in artificial intelligence by asking them when they think intelligent machines will better humans in a wide range of tasks.”

You can see many of the answers plotted on the chart above. Grace and her co-authors asked 1,634 experts, and found that they “believe there is a 50% chance of AI outperforming humans in all tasks in 45 years and of automating all human jobs in 120 years.” That means all jobs: not only driving trucks, delivering by drone, running cash registers, gas stations, phone support, weather forecasts, investment banking, etc, but also performing surgery, which may happen in less than 40 years, and writing New York Times bestsellers, which may happen by 2049.

That’s right, AI may perform our cultural and intellectual labor, making art and films, writing books and essays, and creating music. Or so the experts say. Already a Japanese AI program has written a short novel, and almost won a literary prize for it. And the first milestone on the chart has already been reached; last year, Google’s AI AlphaGo beat Lee Sedol, the South Korean grandmaster of Go, the ancient Chinese game “that’s exponentially more complex than chess,” as Cade Metz writes at Wired. (Humane video game design, on the other hand, may have a ways to go yet.)

Perhaps these feats partly explain why, as Grace and the other researchers found, Asian respondents expected the rise of the machines “much sooner than North America.” Other cultural reasons surely abound—likely those same quirks that make Americans embrace creationism, climate-denial, and fearful conspiracy theories and nostalgia by the tens of millions. The future may be frightening, but we should have seen this coming. Sci-fi visionaries have warned us for decades to prepare for our technology to overtake us.

In the 1960s Alan Watts foresaw the future of automation and the almost pathological fixation we would develop for “job creation” as more and more necessary tasks fell to the robots and human labor became increasingly superfluous. (Hear him make his prediction above.) Like many a technologist and futurist today, Watts advocated for Universal Basic Income, a way of ensuring that all of us have the means to survive while we use our newly acquired free time to consciously shape the world the machines have learned to maintain for us.

What may have seemed like a Utopian idea then (though it almost became policy under Nixon), may become a necessity as AI changes the world, writes MIT, “at breakneck speed.”

via Big Think/MIT Technology Review

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Omni, the Iconic Sci-Fi Magazine, Now Digitized in High-Resolution and Available Online

There was a time, not so long ago, when not only could a blockbuster Hollywood comedy make a reference to a science magazine, but everyone in the audience would get that reference. It happened in Ghostbusters, right after the titular boys in gray hit it big with their first high-profile busting of a ghost. In true 1980s style, a success montage followed, in the middle of which appeared the cover of Omni magazine's October 1984 issue which, according to the Ghostbusters Wiki, "featured a Proton Pack and Particle Thrower. The tagline read, 'Quantum Leaps: Ghostbusters' Tools of the Trade.'"

The movie made up that cover, but it didn't make up the publication. In reality, the cover of Omni's October 1984 issue, a special anniversary edition which appears at the top of the magazine's Wikipedia page today, promised predictions of "Love, Work & Play in the 21st Century" from the likes of beloved sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury, social psychologist Stanley Milgram, physicist Gerard O'Neill, trend-watcher John Naisbitt — and, of course, Ronald Reagan. Now you can find that issue of Omni, as well as every other from its 1978-to-1995 run, digitized in high-resolution and made available on Amazon.


"Omni was a magazine about the future," writes Motherboard's Claire Evans, telling the story of "the best science magazine that ever was." In its heyday, it blew minds by regularly featuring extensive Q&As with some of the top scientists of the 20th century–E.O. Wilson, Francis Crick, Jonas Salk–tales of the paranormal, and some of the most important science fiction to ever see magazine publication" by William Gibson, Orson Scott Card, Harlan Ellison, George R. R. Martin — and even the likes of Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, and William S. Burroughs. "By coupling science fiction and cutting-edge science news, the magazine created an atmosphere of possibility, where even the most outrageous ideas seemed to have basis in fact."

Originally founded by Kathy Keeton (formerly, according to Evans, "a South African ballerina who went from being one of the highest-paid strippers in Europe") and Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione, Omni not only had an impact in unexpected areas (the eccentric musical performer Klaus Nomi, himself a cultural innovator, took his name in part from the magazine's) but took steps into the digital realm long before other print publications dared. It first established its online presence on Compuserve in 1986; seven years later, it opened up its archives, along with forums and new content, on America Online, a first for any major magazine. Now Amazon users can purchase Omni's digital back issues for $2.99 each, or read them for free if they have Kindle Unlimited accounts. (You can sign up for a 30-day free trial for Kindle Unlimited and start binge-reading Omni here.)

Jerrick Media, owners of the Omni brand, have also begun to make available on Vimeo on Demand episodes of Omni: The New Frontier, the 1980s syndicated television series hosted by Peter Ustinov. And without paying a dime, you can still browse the fascinating Omni material archived at Omni Magazine Online, an easy way to get a hit of the past's idea of the future — and one presenting, in the words of 1990s editor-in-chief Keith Farrell, "a fascination with science and speculation, literature and art, philosophy and quirkiness, serious speculation and gonzo speculation, the health of the planet and its cultures, our relationship to the universe and its (possible) cultures, and a sense that whatever else, tomorrow would be different from today."

via The Verge

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

 

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