Oral history of the Whole Earth Catalog

Anuj sez, "How did a publication with just a four-year run help shape a community so prolific that it went on to inspire Google, Craigslist, Apple, Patagonia, and the blogosphere; save six American rivers; and shape sustainable business practices as we know them today? Forty years after the first issue of the Whole Earth Catalog, PLENTY magazine's anniversary-year oral history of the publication, as told by those who made it and those who read it, tracks the long-lasting impact of a short-lived journal that altered the course of the world."

I've got a complete set of Whole Earth Catalogs -- they're some of my favorite all-time reading, and are a major inspiration for Boing Boing's format, subject, and approach. I remember the first Whole Earth Review I ever read (Is the Body Obsolete?). It was literally a life-changing experience.

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. Basically, Brand invented the blogosphere long before there was any such thing as a blog.

The Whole Earth Effect (Thanks, Anuj!)

(Photo: Whole Earth Catalog - Front, a Creative Commons Attribution photo from Akaalias's Flickr stream)

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