How the Whole Earth Catalog Predicted the Internet

As creators of an internet start up, the Main and Me founding team tends to be connected to the internet almost 24/7. To offset the health risk of over-connectedness, some of us have formed the habit of taking a one hour walk everyday with Omar, the standard poodle disguised to look like a regular dog.

It was during one of these walks–while listening to the audio version of the new Steve Jobs book (I know, not very “un-connected,” right?)–that we were stopped in our tracks by a quote from the 1969 Whole Earth Catalog, Stewart Brand’s  iconic counter-cultural book of the 60s:

“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.”

OK, a little bombastic perhaps, but it was the 60s. Now re-read that last part slowly:

“…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.”

Call us crazy but the man is describing the modern internet, roughly 25 years before it happened, is he not?

In 1969, The Whole Earth Catalog enjoyed pride of place on the coffee table of many a NJ living room, or at least the ones whose owners did not fancy sending their 18-year old sons off to a pointless war in southeast Asia. The book was an open invitation to a 10-yr old with time on their hands: 11″ x 14″ x 1″ thick, a weird hybrid of Sears catalog, novel and album cover. We didn’t understand half of it, but looking back we now realize we were completely mesmerized by it.

The book embodied a counter-cultural spirit which, it seems to me now, literally helped the country survive the trauma of Vietnam, then seemed to disappear completely during the Bush years (!?), and now periodically resurfaces in important places like the buy local movement. Maybe that’s because many buylocalists are baby boomers who also grew up with the Whole Earth Catalog? Along with the “occupiers,” these buylocalists represent both the old guard and the van-guard of a new Whole Earth sensibility, and Main and Me couldn’t be more thrilled to be a part of it. So let’s close out 2011 in style and look forward to 2012 with another of Jobs’s favorite quotes from the same book:

“Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

Happy summer to our enlightened boomer and “noomer” friends, alike. See you on Main and Me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s