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Whole Earth in Hindsight
Alex Steffen, 16 Sep 08

It's no secret that Whole Earth, both the catalogs and the magazine, were huge influences on Worldchanging. Indeed, Stewart Brand has been one of our heroes.

Plenty has a sort of oral history of the WEC up on its site. I contributed a few quotes, but the real pay-offs are the lines from some of the early adopters:

Kevin Kelly: The catalog’s voice was a breakthrough. There wasn’t a style sheet; they left in most of the spelling and grammar errors. The WEC also had a gossip section. It was about the people who wrote the catalog. Brand was the first person to make gossip a legitimate topic.

Richard Wurman: A West Coast catalog for hippies that won the National Book Award [in 1972, in the Contemporary Affairs category]? It was a paradigm shift in information distribution. In the early ’70s, the public didn’t know what a yurt was, or where to buy one. But if you were interested in moving back to the land and needed sturdy, cheap housing, this was invaluable information. I think you can draw a pretty straight line from the WEC to a lot of today’s culture. It created an aroma that’s so pervasive, most people don’t even know the source of the smell.

Kevin Kelly: For this new countercultural movement, information was a precious commodity. In the ’60s, there was no Internet; no 500 cable channels. Bookstores were usually small and bad; libraries, worse. The WEC not only gave you permission to invent your life, it gave you the reasoning and the tools to do just that. And you believed you could do it, because on every page of the catalog were other people doing it. This was a great example of user-generated content, without advertising, before the Internet.

Worth a read, though for the real deal, go check out Fred Turner's book.

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I've still got my original issues and the follow-on versions, as well as some Co-Evolution Quarterlys, which I dip into now and then for some inspiration. WEC was the original Internet.

Posted by: Malaprops on 22 Sep 08



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