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Remembering Michael Gosney’s Impact on Consciousness Culture

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Remembering Michael Gosney’s Impact on Consciousness Culture

The best conversations usually took place in his kitchen. This would seem, on the surface, a common occurrence. We all can recall countless parties where everyone packs together closely in the kitchen while a comfy living area or fancy dining room sits empty a few feet away. But the kitchen here belonged to Michael Gosney, and that fact alone entails that the conversations shared within it would indeed be the best of conversations, sprawling dialogs on a deep stream of topics that would make the ancient Greeks proud, insightfully batted back and forth by culture shapers from all corners of the earth. In this heady environment, it was only right that Michael’s kitchen provided a creative container for the artistic mavericks and mavens who “feed their heads,” often quite literally, as they cooked up ideas and initiatives for a multitude of culturally inventive art and activism. 

Michael’s home near San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, always affectionately and sometimes officially known as the GozSalon, was for decades a fulcrum of California progressive culture stretching from San Diego to Humboldt County. For an inkling, picture an Algonquin Round Table soiree where martini meets micro-dose. Clever literary banter, meant to out-quip an astute rival, is replaced with a group-mind-meld visioning of, say, a community playa dance designed to swell the hearts of thousands of ecstatic Burners. Or the meticulous planning of an Earthdance festival synchronized to the exact second with allied celebrations in dozens of cities and time zones worldwide. Or the compiling of a list of speakers, performers, panel participants, and sponsors for confabs and symposia on subjects ranging from conscious technology to intentional community, green ecology, and psychedelic research, therapy, and education. 

Michael William Gosney transitioned peacefully at his home on April 28, 2022, after a short bout with bile duct cancer, surrounded by friends and family. He was a man who embodied and defined the progressive spirit of San Francisco. Michael’s passing calls for contemplating his high-minded, prescient, and significant work in myriad fields, and his inspiring personal influence in the lives of countless friends, colleagues, and collaborators.

Summarizing Michael’s life accomplishments is something akin to translating the Bhagavad Gita into code. The man did A LOT in his 67 years. He united communities around the best of intentions, motivated both individual and collective action, and enlightened us artistically, ethically, and spiritually. As anyone who knew or worked with him would attest, it was no understatement when, in a 1995 interview, Timothy Leary described Michael as “one of the few great pioneer humanists in the digital world.” 

Michael was a gifted writer and editor; a bold and far-seeing book, music, and multimedia publisher; a visionary festival and event producer; and a revered thought leader in the fields of technology, consciousness, and environmentalism. Born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania in 1953, he spent his formative years in Kansas City before attending Arizona State University and University of Kansas. Stirred to action upon hearing Dark Side of the Moon (with entheogenic assistance) and witnessing the live Pink Floyd performance (with more of the same inspiration), he left college for the California coast, following the time-honored trail of countless intellectual-spiritual explorers before him. 

Landing in San Diego in 1976, he co-founded the literary agency The Word Shop, published the Journal of Holistic Health, and founded the independent publishing house Avant Books. Michael’s notable publications include The Life and Adventures of John Muir (1979), a biography of the early conservationist and founder of the Sierra Club, the English translation of the play Buddha (1983) by Nikos Kazantzakis, and Deep Ecology (1985) ed. by Michael Tobias, a collection of essays proposing a progressive, post-modern environmental sensibility. 

From 1986 to 1991, Michael published and edited Verbum, an early personal computer and computer art magazine widely recognized as one of the first periodicals to be entirely produced with desktop publishing techniques. In 1991, he published Verbum Interactive, which showcased digital articles with video, hyperlinks, audio files, and CD-Audio. It was hailed as a groundbreaking product and attracted the attention of Apple, Kodak, Adobe Systems, Toshiba, and Microsoft, leading to many collaborations in computer-related art and publishing realms, including The Photo CD Book (1992), a full color guide to Photo CD technology and products; Multimedia Power Tools (1993), a multimedia handbook with a CD-ROM featuring step-by-step animated instructions; and Peter Norton’s PC Guru (1998), a double CD-ROM featuring animation, video, and hypertext content offering a comprehensive guide to new owners of personal computers.

Michael curated and produced the Imagine Exhibit of Personal Computer Art in 1991, a pioneering traveling exhibition featuring a range of techniques from artists on the vanguard of using computers as tools of artistic expression. The Los Angeles Times described the exhibit as marking “the distinction between an earlier era of computer graphics and newer computer art” and quoted Michael on the show’s humanistic aesthetic: “We don’t want to just show off the tools, but to show off the content and creativity achieved with these tools. Computers are part of our lifestyle, like it or not. They’re everywhere. What we’re doing is celebrating the creative side of the medium. We’re carrying the flame for a really human touch to all of this.” 

In 1995, Michael relocated to San Francisco and established the Verbum office in the heart of the booming SoMa district. He loved The City and proudly made it his home for the rest of his life. He always honored it in his work; indeed there was no more natural representative and genuine emissary for San Francisco than Michael, as evidenced by his semi-annual Digital Be-In, a San Francisco-based celebration and technology showcase that was described by Soledad O’Brien on MSNBC as, “where 60s counterculture meets 90s cyberculture.” 

Beginning as a private party held by Verbum magazine in conjunction with MacWorld Expo, the 1992 Digital Be-In became a public event in its fourth year, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the first Human Be-In which took place in San Francisco in 1967. The many counterculture icons who took part in the event included Timothy Leary, Chet Helms, Allen Cohen, Ken Kesey, John Perry Barlow, and Ram Dass. Other notable speakers and participants in Digital Be-Ins through the years included musicians Graham Nash, Jon Anderson, and Todd Rundgren, labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, philosopher Ervin László, astrophysicist Fiorella Terenzi, Burning Man founder Larry Harvey, San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, and Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown. 

Michael produced eighteen Digital Be-In events over a 25-year span, including special editions in Tokyo in 1995 and London in 2005. Commenting on the festival’s history in an interview with the Silicon Valley news site Pando in 2015, he said, “It was a very fertile time. And, as have many of the phases of technology evolution, it was influenced greatly by the Bay Area culture. The whole history here of the counterculture was very relevant to the early emergence of the whole cyberculture movement. Our Digital Be-In event was kind of an embodiment of that connection.” 

Michael’s Digital Be-In events advocated the connection between consciousness expansion and the digital revolution. In 2011 and 2012, he produced the San Francisco Bay Area Deep Green Conference, which featured panels on ecology and cannabis legislation and exhibitions of environmentally sensitive cultivation techniques. In an interview with Wired magazine in 1999, he described the symbiotic relationship between entheogens and the evolution of information technology: “The vanguard of the computer industry consists of creative people, who, like any creative community, are more inclined to experiment culturally. It’s been unspoken for many years that the crown jewel of the U.S. economy has been so influenced by ‘soft’ drugs like marijuana and LSD. Now we want to stand up and be counted.” 

An early proponent of deep ecology and green cities, Michael shared a long collaboration with the ecological architecture model community Arcosanti, near Scottsdale, Arizona, where he produced the Paradox Conferences in 1997, 1999, and 2001. These events brought together leaders in cyberculture and sustainable development. From 1999 onward, he co-managed Earthdance International, a non-profit that coordinates the annual Earthdance festivals that take place in multiple locations around the world. 

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In 2002, Michael co-founded the non-profit Green Century Institute, an information clearinghouse that provided consulting and advisory public services for environmentally conscious community outreach.From 2013 to 2015, he produced and hosted the podcast Eco-Evolution, featuring in-depth interviews with innovators on technological solutions to ecological sustainability issues. 

Michael’s work was informed by French theologian Teilhard de Chardin; consciousness researchers Carl Jung and Ralph Metzner, urban architect-philosopher Paolo Soleri; Biosphere 2 inventor John P. Allen; and architect and systems theorist Buckminster Fuller. Acknowledging Fuller’s influence, he titled his 2013 TEDx Talk “Designing the Control Panel for Spaceship Earth,” wherein he described the humanistic and ecological dimensions of emergent information and communication technologies: 

“This open, self-organizing, distributed network is not unlike many designs found in the biological realm. Engineers and theorists alike began seeing the reflection of our evolving digital world in the mechanisms of nature’s distributed networks, binary codes, memory, processing codes, and feedback loops… I am convinced it is an evolutionary imperative that we build the equivalent of a control panel for Spaceship Earth, so that we can move beyond our adolescence as a species and live up to our role as stewards of this living planet and participants in the galactic ecology of living worlds.” 

In his work, and in his life, Michael trusted always in the concept of synergy, allowing his numerous projects and personal relationships to effortlessly overlap and intermingle. His events and initiatives as well as his companions and collaborators, in whatever social or intellectual arena, became a unified field expressing Michael’s life philosophy of mutual support, innovative activism, and ethical responsibility. This moral focus, principled foresight, and personal fortitude made him a natural and inspirational leader. He wasn’t afraid to stand tall, march out front, and hold a torch to illuminate a neglected matter of significance. He advised colleagues that their best intentions would lead them forward and carry them through. His mantra was to “Trust the Flow.”

At the time of his passing, Michael, in addition to juggling a dozen projects, was formally in two ventures. As Managing Director of the Techné Verde ICT research project with the Buckminster Fuller Institute, he developed social and collaboration networks for transformative culture. He was also Director of Strategic Planning for Synergetic Press, a publisher of books and journals on regenerative design, biospheric science, and psychedelic research. Synergizing his sundry efforts until the very end, he was also working with Conscious Mind Labs in Toronto to develop alternative medicine solutions and treatment protocols; the Open Mind Intelligence Platform, which is developing a psychedelic trust network; and Stonehedge Gardens & Holistic Learning Center, which is creating a community retreat space for thought leaders in these and related fields.

Michael was a busy man and a deeply spiritual man, a tenacious seeker of wisdom and higher consciousness who stayed the path until his final breath. As with all truly remarkable men and women, the scope of Michael’s accomplishments is only eclipsed by his rousing and lasting influence on countless friends and colleagues the world over. A man of impeccable character, endless optimism, and heartwarming presence, he had a singular ability to bring people together in ways that sparked profound, enduring relationships and vital creative endeavors. Michael was deeply loved and admired by those who knew and worked with him. If it is true that a man’s heart is not judged by how much he loves, but by how much he is loved by others, then Michael’s life was an exemplary one that will continue to inspire far beyond his time on this earth. 

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