The Whole Earth Catalog remembered

Plenty Magazine has a remembrance of the Whole Earth Catalog with comments by several who were involved or influenced. Whole Earth certainly influenced my evolution, in fact determined my career path.

The Plenty intro is inaccurate in that it mentions only on the Catalog’s “four year run,” but if Whole Earth had gone away after four years, the influence wouldn’t have been the same. Whole Earth’s life was extended many more years through the publication of Coevolution Quarterly, later renamed Whole Earth Review, then Whole Earth Magazine – now sadly defunct.

I wasn’t much into computers and technology until Whole Earth announced in 1985 that it was launching a BBS called the WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link) which was accessible from anywhere by modem. I bought a computer and modem and dialed in via long distance to Sausalito, and that was my first adoption of social technology. Via the WELL I connected with Whole Earth, met then-editor Howard Rheingold and past editor Kevin Kelly, established a relationship with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and got involved in the formation of EFF-Austin, became an associate editor of bOING bOING the ‘zine and book review editor for Factsheet Five, was involved in a private discussion with a group of people who were starting a magazine called Wired, connected with Wired’s HotWired online service and started the Electronic Frontiers Forum there, met Paco Nathan and formed FringeWare, Inc., found writers for Fringe Ware Review (which was incidentally modeled on Whole Earth Review), became part of Howard Rheingold’s Electric Minds, worked with Bruce Sterling on the Mirrorshades conference and later on Viridian Design, and became an early blogger, initially publishing via the public_html directory of my WELL account. Having met the Whole Earth crew, I did some writing for Whole Earth Review, including my global warming piece in the Sterling-edited last issue. I was editor of the Consciousness Subdomain of the Millennium Whole Earth Catalog – sort of a dream come true – and coordinated a Whole Earth party in Austin while the team was here (with Wavy Gravy along for the ride) for their publisher’s annual meeting. My bOING bOING colleague Mark Frauenfelder turned me onto blogger, and there was early back and forth with Mark and Cory Doctorow as the bOING bOING blog was evolving – and we were all using the Whole Earth format in blogging, where there was a review of something followed by quoted excerpts. Many bloggers adopted this format, probably because they used the popular bOING bOING blog as a model.

I’m pretty sure the Internet wouldn’t be what it is today if Whole Earth and the WELL had never existed. The influence was way more than a blog format. Those of us who read the Whole Earth publications were inspired to be eclectic and creative in our thinking, and to question everything, especially our own assumptions.

There’s more I could say, but I’ve run out of time. I wish Whole Earth Magazine was still around. The last issue, edited by Alex Steffen as a precursor to Worldchanging, was never published due to a lack of funds. Attempts to raise enough money to revive the publication failed, and it went away.

Time for a revival? Some things cycle out and can’t be revived, but Whole Earth could rise again, I think, with the right set of instigators.

What was your experience of the Whole Earth Catalog?

Author: Jon Lebkowsky

Co-wrangler of Plutopia News Network, cohost Radio Free Plutopia. Podcaster, writer, dharma observer, enzyme. Former editor/publisher, FringeWare Review; associate editor at bOING bOING and Factsheet Five; writer at Mondo 2000, 21C, Wired, Whole Earth Review, Austin Chronicle; sub-editor at Millennium Whole Earth Catalog; blogger at Worldchanging. Digital culture maven, podcaster, writer, dharma observer, enzyme. On The WELL, Cohost of VC (virtual communities), Media, and Civil War (.ind) conferences.

One thought on “The Whole Earth Catalog remembered”

  1. the whole earth guys were harbingers, minds ahead of the time, and in an environment supportive of newness..

    what do you think of the current time? supportive of newness? are the leading-edge minds (which are always among us) being heard, or rewarded? i don’t think so, and i think i know the cure … more chaos.

    and nature is about to give it to us. thank god.

    enjoy, gregory lent

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