All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

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.

Richard Brautigan, 1935-1984, Beat poet of his generation, wrote this poem in 1967, when I was but a freshman in high school. It would be another seven years before I stumbled upon his works. When I finally did, I was living the life of a loose hippie chick in Sandpoint, Idaho, and enjoying it to the fullest. We would gather in groups and read Brautigan out loud, each taking turns with the slim volumes, sometimes staying up all night analyzing what he meant. Home computers were unheard of in 1974. And yet on fireplace-smoky freezing nights, we would read Brautigan and among other things, we wondered what computers would do for our lives. We knew only of giant mainframe computers, and the ones portrayed in science fiction. It would be another two years before Jobs and Wozniak introduced the Apple II. So where, in 1967, did this vision of Richard Brautigan’s come from?

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

RIchard Brautigan, master of words. He was known to walk the streets of Berkeley in the late ’60’s and early 70’s, painting words of people he knew and saw. He would sit in the streetside cafes and watch others as they strolled by. He wrote about love, and life, and heartache, and passion, and… once, about computers. He had a vision of a time when we would live in harmony with our computers. What if we envisioned right now, like Richard Brautigan did in 1967, what computers might be in thirty years? What if we collectively envisioned them as a tool to bring loving grace to our planet? In 1974 it was easy to imagine that computers would change the world for the worse, put us under the control of government, and take away our freedom. It’s easy to imagine that now, with such things like loss of privacy through the Internet. But in turning our thought patterns around, it would be just as easy to imagine the opposite.

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.

“… all watched over by machines of loving grace.” Not machines which control our lives, or machines that create discord between platforms, but machines of loving grace. Machines which free us of our labors, and join us back to nature, and return us to our mammal brothers and sisters. What a wonderful age we live in. Our machines of loving grace unite us with the planet. How nice it would be if we could recognize the power which our computers actually give us. How nice it would be if we all would just begin, once again, to look upon our computers with fresh eyes and see the power of the Internet, and how it has the potential to unite us all together in peace and harmony. How nice to know that these marvelous machines really do free us from our labors, so we have the time to join our mammal brothers and sisters in nature.

Shortly after I began writing this piece, Microsoft was ruled by a Federal court to be a monopoly. My mailbox filled with joyous gloating from the Macintosh community. Ah ha! We knew it all along! The evil empire will be struck down! At last, we are vindicated! Patting ourselves on the back, we gloat to one another. And I wonder why this becomes such an important issue in our lives. Although we have lobbied for years for comparable software and a presence in the business world, and other issues which we Macintosh fanatics have so strongly evangelized for, in the long run how has it truly affected our lives in a negative way? After all, aren’t you sitting in front of your Macintosh reading this, right now?

I still maintain that as long as Apple continues to lead the way in cutting edge technology, I’ll not give up my Macintosh until you pry the keyboard from my cold, dead fingers. I also prefer Macintosh because I do not admire Microsoft’s business practices. I think their operating system is clumsy. I think the judge ruled fairly. But when I think about computers in general, I think of the machines of loving grace. Do I evangelize the Macintosh? You bet I do, every chance I get, especially for new users and those who are looking for “something better.” But when someone who has grown up using PCs and owns practical and useful software for that platform is looking to buy a new computer, I have to say that I support them in their right to choose their preferred “machine of loving grace.”

Richard Brautigan is dead, so you can’t email him and tell him how you feel about his poem. It is said that he committed suicide in his Montana cabin sometime in 1986. I guess his time was done. Perhaps, if he had had, at that time, a machine of loving grace…

Be well, world. Live with loving grace in your hearts. Microsoft lost. Be gracious about it, and look to the future. It’s coming faster than we can imagine.


The history of home computers

More on Richard Brautigan

A note about the copyright
Richard Brautigan, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace. San Francisco: Communications Company. 1967.
The following statement is included among the prefatory pages: “Permission is granted to reprint any of these poems in magazines, books and newspapers if they are given away free.”

Beth Lock

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