While on that flight, Brand came up with a solution: to publish a magazine in the vein of the LL Bean catalog-which he’d always admired for its immense practicality-that would blend liberal social values with emerging ideas about ‘appropriate technology’ and ‘whole-systems thinking.’ He decided to run NASA’s photograph of the planet on the cover and to call the publication the Whole Earth Catalog (WEC). The first WEC, published in July 1968, was a six-page mimeograph that began with Brand’s now-legendary statement of purpose: ‘We are as gods and we might as well get good at it.’
The WEC lasted four years (along with some special editions since). During that time, the magazine published a flood of articles about species preservation, organic farming, and alternative energy-but it was also a resource for ‘tools’ as wide ranging as Buddhist economics, nanotechnology, and a manure-powered generator. Comprehensive in this way, the WEC was a catalyst, helping transform a set of disparate individualists into a potent community. As Lloyd Kahn, the catalog’s shelter editor, says, ‘The beatniks had a negative, existential vibe. They weren’t into sharing. But the hippies came along and wanted to share everything. Whatever they discovered, they just wanted to broadcast. The WEC was the very best example of this.’
It is now 40 years later and the WEC’s avalanche of influence continues to flow. Cyberculture, the blogosphere, companies like Apple and Patagonia, websites like Craigslist and worldchanging.org, sustainable building, ethical business practices, and the gamut of alternative-energy industries were all shaped by its pages. Its ecological legacy spans everything from new cattle-grazing techniques to major environ?mental legislation. What follows is an oral history, compiled from 30 hours of interviews, that takes a look at the Whole Earth Effect-the long-lasting impact of this short-lived journal, as told by the people directly in its path.
The Whole Earth Catalog was well before my time, but obviously Technoccult owes a big debt to it.