Whole Earth Catalog

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Definition

The Whole Earth Catalog was a countercultural publication by writer Stewart Brand that was popular in the late 60s and early 70s. Brand started the catalog after going around the country in his van selling useful items to budding communes. The introduction of the first 1969 article explains the purpose of the catalog in all of it's grandiose glory:

We are as gods and might as well get good at it. So far, remotely done power and glory—as via government, big business, formal education, church—has succeeded to the point where gross defects obscure actual gains. In response to this dilemma and to these gains a realm of intimate, personal power is developing—power of the individual to conduct his own education, find his own inspiration, shape his own environment, and share his adventure with whoever is interested. Tools that aid this process are sought and promoted by the WHOLE EARTH CATALOG.[1]

At the core of the catalog was the idea that technology could connect us in new ways and help us be better people. The catalog has an eclectic mix of technologies, books, guides, and poems to help accomplish this task. Steve Jobs called the Whole Earth Catalog "Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along"[2], while Kevin Kelly notes that "Brand invented the blogosphere long before there was any such thing as a blog".[3]. The Whole Earth Catalog proved to be a model and inspiration for many thinkers who later laid the foundations of the internet. The poem "All watched over by machines of loving grace", printed in the first Whole Earth Catalog, captures the ideals of the publication quite well:

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.

I like to think (right now, pleasel)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms

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.[4]

References

  1. Brand, Stewart. Whole Earth Catalog. Portola Institute. 1968.
  2. Commencement address by Steve Jobs, delivered on June 12, 2005. http://news-service.stanford.edu/news/2005/june15/jobs-061505.html
  3. Kevin Kelly: The Whole Earth Blogalog September 17, 2008
  4. Brand, Stewart. Whole Earth Catalog. Portola Institute. 1968