Whole Earth Catalog
The Whole Earth Catalog (WEC) was an American counterculture magazine and product catalog published by Stewart Brand several times a year between 1968 and 1972, and occasionally thereafter, until 1998. The magazine featured essays and articles, but was primarily focused on product reviews. The editorial focus was on self-sufficiency, ecology, alternative education, “do it yourself” (DIY), and holism, and featured the slogan “access to tools”. While WEC listed and reviewed a wide range of products (clothing, books, tools, machines, seeds, etc.), it did not sell any of the products directly. Instead, the vendor’s contact information was listed alongside the item and its review. This is why, while not a regularly published periodical, numerous editions and updates were required to keep price and availability information up to date.
When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation … It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along. It was idealistic and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.
Then at the very end of this commencement speech Jobs quotes explicitly the farewell message placed on the back cover of the last 1974 edition of the Catalog (#1180 October 1974 titled Whole Earth Epilog) and makes it his own final recommendation: “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”
The title Whole Earth Catalog came from a previous project by Stewart Brand. In 1966, he initiated a public campaign to have NASA release the then-rumored satellite photo of the sphere of Earth as seen from space, one of the first images of the “Whole Earth”. He thought the image might be a powerful symbol, evoking a sense of shared destiny and adaptive strategies from people. The Stanford-educated Brand, a biologist with strong artistic and social interests, believed that there was a groundswell of commitment to thoroughly renovating American industrial society along ecologically and socially just lines, whatever they might prove to be.
Andrew Kirk in Counterculture Green notes that the Whole Earth Catalog was preceded by the “Whole Earth Truck Store” which was a 1963 Dodge truck. In 1968, Brand, who was then 29, and his wife Lois embarked “on a commune road trip” with the truck, hoping to tour the country doing educational fairs. The truck was not only a store, but also an alternative lending library and a mobile microeducation service.
Kevin Kelly, who would edit later editions of the catalog, summarizes the very early history this way:
‘Here’s a tool that will make drilling a well, or grinding flour, easier,’ Brand would tell [the hippies,] pointing it out in his catalog of recommended tools. But his best selling tool was the catalog itself, annotated by him, featuring tools that didn’t fit into his truck.
The “Truck Store” finally settled into its permanent location in Menlo Park, California. Instead of bringing the store to the people, Brand decided to create “accumulatively larger versions of his tool catalog” and sell it by mail so the people could contact the vendors directly.
Using the most basic typesetting and page-layout tools, Brand and his colleagues created the first issue of The Whole Earth Catalog in 1968. In subsequent issues, its production values gradually improved. Its outsize pages measured 11×14 inches (28×36 cm). Later editions were more than an inch thick. The early editions were published by the Portola Institute, headed by Richard Raymond. The so-called Last Whole Earth Catalog (June 1971) won the first U.S. National Book Award in the Contemporary Affairs category. It was the first time a catalog had ever won such an award. Brand’s intent with the catalog was to provide education and “access to tools” so a reader could “find his own inspiration, shape his own environment, and share his adventure with whoever is interested.”
J. Baldwin was a young designer and instructor of design at colleges around the San Francisco Bay (San Francisco State University [then San Francisco State College], the San Francisco Art Institute, and the California College of the Arts [then California College of Arts and Crafts]). As he recalled in the film Ecological Design (1994), “Stewart Brand came to me because he heard that I read catalogs. He said, ‘I want to make this thing called a “whole Earth” catalog so that anyone on Earth can pick up a telephone and find out the complete information on anything. … That’s my goal.'” Baldwin served as the chief editor of subjects in the areas of technology and design, both in the catalog itself and in other publications which arose from it.
True to his 1966 vision, Brand’s publishing efforts were suffused with an awareness of the importance of ecology, both as a field of study and as an influence upon the future of humankind and emerging human awareness.
From the opening page of the 1969 Catalog:
The WHOLE EARTH CATALOG functions as an evaluation and access device. With it, the user should know better what is worth getting and where and how to do the getting.
An item is listed in the CATALOG if it is deemed:
- Useful as a tool,
- Relevant to independent education,
- High quality or low cost,
- Not already common knowledge,
- Easily available by mail.
CATALOG listings are continually revised according to the experience and suggestions of CATALOG users and staff.
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.
The 1968 catalog divided itself into seven broad sections:
- Understanding Whole Systems
- Shelter and Land Use
- Industry and Craft
Within each section, the best tools and books the editors could find were collected and listed, along with images, reviews and uses, prices, and suppliers. The reader was also able to order some items directly through the catalog.
Later editions changed a few of the headings, but generally kept the same overall framework.
The Catalog used a broad definition of “tools”. There were informative tools, such as books, maps, professional journals, courses, and classes. There were well-designed special-purpose utensils, including garden tools, carpenters’ and masons’ tools, welding equipment, chainsaws, fiberglass materials, tents, hiking shoes, and potters’ wheels. There were even early synthesizers and personal computers.
The Catalog’s publication coincided with a great wave of convention-challenging experimentalism and a do-it-yourself attitude associated with “the counterculture,” and tended to appeal not only to the intelligentsia of the movement, but to creative, hands-on, and outdoorsy people of many stripes. Some of the ideas in the Catalog were developed during Brand’s visits to Drop City.
With the Catalog opened flat, the reader might find the large page on the left full of text and intriguing illustrations from a volume of Joseph Needham‘s Science and Civilization in China, showing and explaining an astronomical clock tower or a chain-pump windmill, while on the right-hand page are a review of a beginners’ guide to modern technology (The Way Things Work) and a review of The Engineers’ Illustrated Thesaurus. On another spread, the verso reviews books on accounting and moonlighting jobs, while the recto bears an article in which people tell the story of a community credit union they founded. Another pair of pages depict and discuss different kayaks, inflatable dinghies, and houseboats.
For more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whole_Earth_Catalog