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Michael Gosney, early internet philosopher who introduced Ken Kesey to pioneers of SF tech, dies at 67


Michael Gosney was a seventh grader in Shawnee, Kansas on Human Be-In on January 14, 1967, and missed it with regret. But on the 25th anniversary of this historic day at Golden Gate Park, Gosney has given it a modern twist by producing the Digital Be-In.

This meeting of the hippies with the techies at a South Market art gallery proved more enduring than the single Be-In, and Gosney hosted 18 of these sprawling geekathons over the next 30 years. He also curated Green Street Alley, a cannabis scene at How Weird Street Faire, and was a trance DJ at Burning Man.

Gosney, who made a living as a publisher of books, periodicals, and multimedia, possessed a rare combination of traits that came across as both a personal computer nerd and a charismatic party planner. His longest-running event was the Goz Salon, a think tank and speakers’ bureau held in the living room of his home near Ocean Beach in Outer Richmond.

Gosney died April 28 at his home, three months after being diagnosed with bile duct cancer, his daughter, Kate Gosney-Hoffman, said. He was 67 and had made the decision to stop all medical interventions, including painkillers and sedatives. His final moments were spent with his daughter holding his hand and his one-year-old granddaughter, Clara, holding his gaze.

“She smiled and carried it gently,” Gosney-Hoffman said. “He orchestrated his death like he did just about everything else. He was the master in this area.

As orchestrator, Gosney was late to the gathering of the tribes that sparked the Summer of Love. But his timing was perfect for the next generation of counterculture seekers who came to San Francisco in the 1990s. As a matchmaker, he introduced the city’s tech pioneers to Ken Kesey, Ram Dass, Timothy Leary, Wavy Gravy, Todd Rundgren and the two Browns – Jerry and Willie.

“Michael was the most connected person I’ve ever met, and he had a superhuman ability to bring people together in ways that inspired deep friendships and vital creative endeavours,” said former “Film Trip” host Steve Wagner. on KGO-TV and director of the San Francisco Art Exchange, dealer in original rock photographs and album covers.

“He really brought together the spirit of the 1960s counterculture with the cyberculture of the 90s, early Internet users,” said former Chronicle religious writer Don Lattin, author of “Changing Our Minds: Psychedelic Sacraments and the New Psychotherapy”. “He missed the glory days himself, so he really kept that spirit alive.”

Gosney started Verbum, a computer art magazine, in 1986. It is considered one of the first magazines to be printed solely with desktop publishing tools. Essentially, the software replaced the art director and the printer physically laying the pages. He folded the print edition in 1991 and put his magazine online as Verbum Interactive, one of the first CD-ROM periodicals and a platform for digital art, which Gosney himself has created a large part.

“Michael did the first of so many things that were foundational,” software designer Alden Bevington said, noting the San Francisco Bay Area Deep Green Conference, held in 2011 and 2012. It included panels on ecology and cannabis legislation and exhibitions of green cultivation techniques. . “He comes from the philosopher class of the early Internet, which is a dying breed.”

Michael William Gosney was born on July 11, 1954 in Pittsburgh. Her father, William, was a sales manager for a plastics company. His mother, Lou, worked in real estate and raised three children, Michael being the eldest. At Shawnee Mission South High School, he played on the football team and center of the basketball team while writing poetry. After graduating in 1972, he went to Arizona State University before transferring to the University of Kansas.

But he was bored in school and never graduated. In the mid-1970s, he was traveling to San Diego to catch up with friends and was working as a bellhop at the Town and Country Resort when he met Jeanette Menter, a front desk employee. They married in 1978 and had two daughters, Kate and Rachel. They divorced in 1990. A few years later, he met writer Carla King at a party in Santa Cruz. They eventually moved to San Francisco together and became partners and collaborators.

Gosney was first and foremost a man of letters, and his first startup was a San Diego literary agency called Word Shop. From there, he opened his own publishing house, Avant Books. Its titles ranged from a biography of naturalist John Muir to the first English translation of the Greek play “Buddha,” by Nikos Kazantzakis.

He had the idea for Digital Be-In while still living in San Diego in 1988.

“Michael recognized that San Francisco was ground zero for the digital revolution,” Wagner said, “and he had to be where the action was.”

He showed up at his first Be-In, a private party hosted by Verbum Interactive. He relied on Macworld Expo, a trade show at the Moscone Center for Apple computer enthusiasts.

“The Mac grew out of that whole ’60s scene,” Gosney said at the time. “It’s about spiritual power, personal power and evolution. Now, throughout the computer industry, you find people who were active in the 60s in San Francisco.

Within five years, the Digital Be-In was big enough to invite the general public in the form of a ticketed event combining music and dance with a showcase of new technologies and a very primitive attempt at live streaming.

“The ’60s reached the ’90s, and the ’90s came back,” wrote San Francisco Examiner reporter Scott Rosenberg, who covered the 1992 anniversary event. facsimile editions of Oracle and T-shirts displaying “Peace” in 37 languages ​​(100% cotton, pre-shrunk). On the other side, a sign read “Welcome to the digital world” and a narrow hallway led to a cybernetic games room. »

Gosney co-produced versions of the Digital Be-In in Tokyo and London. His last digital Be-In in San Francisco took place on January 12, 2017, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Human Be-In.

“After that he pulled the concept,” Wagner said. “He was on other things.”

A month ago, Wagner spent two weeks with Gosney helping him organize his archive of artwork and essays, as well as a large number of digital files. Gosney’s goal was to donate the archives to UC Berkeley or Stanford University. But his illness caught up with him before he could make the necessary introductions. His colleagues and followers plan to complete the project, however long it takes, and to entrust Gosley’s material and digital works to an academic institution.

“The archive is meant to mark the transition from the pre-digital era to the digital age,” Wagner said. “Michael recognized that digital technology self-organizes in the same way as nature and biology, and so he was able to effect meaningful change in both areas.”

A public celebration of life will be held Friday, May 27 at Broadway Studios, 435 Broadway, San Francisco. Doors open at 3 p.m., with service at 5 p.m. A donation of $20 is requested.

Survivors include his daughters, Kate Gosney-Hoffman of Long Beach and Rachel Gosney of Las Vegas; his mother, Lou Gosney, and brother, Jeff Gosney, both of Greensboro, North Carolina; sister, Kimberly Bruton of Wilmington, North Carolina; and three grandchildren.

Sam Whiting is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @SamWhitingSF