Oct 28

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

The Legacy of the Whole Earth Catalog

Stewart Brand sent out a notice about an upcoming event that looks fascinating: From Counterculture to Cyberculture: The Legacy of the Whole Earth Catalog, a symposium featuring Stewart Brand, Kevin Kelly, Howard Rheingold and Fred Turner, Thursday, November 9 from 7:00 to 8:30 PM, at Cubberly Auditorium, Stanford University.

In the fall of 1968, Stewart Brand published a 61-page miscellany of hand tools, books, and other gear. A generation of long-hairs was heading “back to the land” and Brand aimed to give them the tools they’d need to get there. While most rural communes soon failed, the ideals and the social networks Brand and his colleagues built up around the Catalog would last a lifetime. Over the next forty years, they transformed American notions of technology and particularly, of computers. They shaped the defining notions of our digital world, including “personal” computing, virtual community, and the vision of cyberspace as an electronic frontier. They helped give rise to such influential venues as the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link (or WELL) and Wired magazine. And in the process, they transformed the ideals of the generation of 1968 into a deeply optimistic vision of the social potential of digital technologies.

I'll add myself to their legacy. I didn't get to know Stewart till long afterwards, when O'Reilly was already a household name among geeks, but I nonetheless consider him one of my earliest and most important mentors. My first attempts to get published, right out of college, were some small articles that I sent to CoEvolution Quarterly, Stewart's successor to the Whole Earth Catalog. (A couple of them were accepted, but never published.) We shamelessly copied the name of the Whole Earth Catalog for our groundbreaking Whole Internet User's Guide and Catalog, but that's the least of our debts to Stewart and crew. A huge amount of the O'Reilly sensibility, a mix of practicality and idealism, was learned from the Whole Earth Catalog. And of course, the Whole Earth Catalog is one of the wellsprings of the modern DIY movement, for which Make: magazine is now carrying the torch.

tags: upcoming appearances  | comments: 4   | Sphere It

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Comments: 4

  Kevin Farnham [10.28.06 09:07 PM]

It's really interesting to think of the desire to go "back to the land" as akin to today's DIY movement, including the creation of virtual "homes" on MySpace, in Cyworld, in online games, etc.

It is as though segments of humanity, faced with a shortage of desirable physical land that could be used for pioneering efforts to create a "new world", has chosen to turn portions of "cyberspace" into new lands, that can be cleared, marked out with signs indicating ownership, built upon, cultivated... all with whatever creativity and hard work the individual wishes to put into their new world creation.

That's what you have at an individual level. Then, you have the creation of communities composed of these cyberworld citizens. A whole new level of creation, and synergy...

  Dan [10.30.06 04:18 PM]

Tim, are you aware of the book? I've heard a lot of people compare it to the Whole Earth Catalog.

  Tim O'Reilly [10.30.06 07:33 PM]

Yes, I am. I read worldchanging regularly, and Alex Steffen has been to the past few FOO Camps. I'm going to buy the book (along with a lot of other people) on November 1, from Amazon. (See Worldchanging if that statement doesn't make sense.)

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