Scholars of Causation

Robert Persig and his son Chris on the motorcycle trip that led to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The motorcycle, which was described in detail in the novel but never specified, was a 1966 Honda CB77F “Super Hawk” — Honda’s first sport bike. It is now in the Smithsonian, along with Persig’s tools. This image will be featured in the second chapter of Stewart Brand’s forthcoming book.

I interviewed Stewart Brand about writing The Maintenance Race.

The Maintenance Race tells the thrilling story of a 1968 solo sailing race around the world, a feat that had never before been attempted. It follows three competitors — the man who won, the man who chose not to win, and the man who cheated — illuminating what their respective journeys reveal about the art of maintenance.

Yes, that’s right, maintenance: the critical but rarely celebrated work of keeping systems running smoothly. We all know we should maintain what we care about: our possessions, our relationships, ourselves — but it’s always tempting to skip to the hot new thing that captures our attention, letting our lives fall into disrepair in the process. The Maintenance Race will show you why maintenance matters and how bringing the full scope of your care and attention to bear on it can be transformative — the story sucked me in from the first sentence and inspired me to apply its ideas to my own projects.

Stewart has led a long and fascinating life that I can’t even begin to summarize here, but that I highly recommend you investigate further — this film and this podcast interview are great places to start. He is the president of the Long Now Foundation (I’m a proud member), the founder of Whole Earth Catalog and the WELL, and the author of many books, including How Buildings Learn. In the interview, we discuss why maintenance matters and the creative process behind The Maintenance Race, which is the standalone opening chapter of Stewart’s forthcoming book.

From our conversation:

Software eats the world, and maintenance eats software developers. The fixing and adjusting never stops. It is so complex and tedious the developers are always trying out better designs to minimize it. When stuck with it they try to automate around it. And still it eats them. The clever results of their inventiveness can help any other maintenance domain that chooses to pay attention.

Read the full interview.

Eliot Peper is the author of nine novels, including Cumulus, Bandwidth, and, most recently, Veil. He publishes a blog, sends a monthly newsletter, and tweets more than he probably should.

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