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The Whole Earth Catalog: affecting our perspectives to this very day

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The overview effect, Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth Catalog…

I was born in 1956 and remember when rocket ships went from dreams to reality. We saw them first on TV in black and white cartoons, then a few years later they were blasting off for real in color newscasts. 

As the technology to capture images from space aboard the satellites and spaceships became more capable, pictures were beamed back to NASA for scientific purposes. 

It so happens that on earth there was a man who thought those images of the whole earth should be made public. That it was something that should be shared with all of humanity. That it was our inalienable right as passengers on this spaceship earth to see, to learn, to know.

Thanks to Stewart Brand who in 1966 took to the streets to lobby for public access to these rumored images of earth from space.

In 1968 this incredible image was soon to become part of our toolset, part of our lexicon of cognition of where we are… a literal welcome home, “you are here,” was spread virally (by print, before digital) as one of our most momentous memes. 

And so became the Whole Earth Catalog, an access to tools. An idea whose pages beneath the cover with this image of earth from space would contain all the best ideas and tools at hand to claim our independence from a broken society, renew our wisdom and regenerative practices for a sustainable future…initiated from a grassroots, hands-on momentum. 

I was a child of this collective epiphany, this awakening, this perspective. I felt the movement and an entire culture shift as it swept me along with it. The chaos of so many possibilities was incredibly exciting. So much was being shared on so many topics. There were so many interesting perspectives. So many incredible stories, insights and ideas. And really cool tools. Things to make things you didn’t even know existed. Every page turned revealed a new potential hobby, philosophical angle, design insight, essential life skill, or any of a plethora of useful topics.

Welcome home…

Context is everything. Brand, encouraged by R. Buckminster Fuller, was intent on the idea that if leveraging the necessary awareness, foundational knowledge and proper tools we could align ourselves with the planet for a symbiotic existence.

Seeing is believing. We could now see the little planet we lived on floating alone in space. We could also see by turning the pages we were not alone, alone… we had each other, our energy, knowledge, ideas, and collaborative spirit.

Yes, the times they were a changing, we could see that much more clearly from these new perspectives with the help of the crew at the Whole Earth Catalog.

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The work being done at Whole Earth and later at Co-Evolution Quarterly was a reflection of the collective conscious, the noosphere, the commons of mind long before the internet and the ability to google. 

Each issue was organized around a theme with various angles and topics, tools, events and information that somehow related to the theme. It was a relational idea database, a catalog of synergy with down to earth ideas.

This is why I feel so at home in Ideapod today reflecting upon the existence of the Whole Earth Catalog, its effect on history moving forward and the generations that have followed.

The video below is the entire 40 minute historical overview as seen in the intro of the 50th anniversary event.

To watch the entire anniversary event click here. Short version of intro above starts at 14:35. The talks begin at 31:41

I know for a fact it added fuel to my personal epiphany launching me on a trajectory that has led to this very night as I watched the Whole Earth Catalog’s 50th year anniversary live feed.

I will never forget the sense of chaos emanating from their houseboat in Sausalito when I walked in to the Whole Earth offices back in the day. The universe had exploded and knowledge was everywhere.

Fifty years ago humanity was afforded a view of the big picture for the first time. We will never be able to unsee it again.

They helped to usher in a journey that is now part of our collective cognitive DNA, our need to know, to understand whole systems, to collaborate, to envision, to build a better future now.

This milestone will echo throughout the noosphere forever.

With gratitude,

Mark

 Mark’s Myth is an exploration into the synergies of ideas… riffs blending wordplay, story telling, technology and the arts weaving together a tapestry of synapses and milestones.

Written by Mark's Myth

Mark’s Myth is an exploration into the synergies of ideas. Blending story telling, technology and the arts, as Ideapod’s Artist-In-Residence Mark is one of the first users to explore the full potential of Ideapod helping to nurture its evolution. To view Mark's gallery of ideas go to https://ideapod.com/eleprocon/

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  1. It’s strange that something so seminal to the lives of everyone who was of an age when these publications were flourishing is as unknown as it is today. Also strange that Stewart Brand has dropped out of view. The last I heard was a project to bring back extinct animals, and before that it was something about placing long-range bets, like on what was going to be happening 10,000 years from now. I never did understand that one and it made me wonder even more about why Stewart Brand was no longer doing anything that’s front and center.

    One more thing. Brand got acting advice from Peter Coyote to help him with how stiff he was as a talk show guest. It was the best advice for life as well as for interviews, which was that you can relax if you bear in mind that whatever you say there always is next, as in, “That was a foolish thing I just said,” or some such so that it doesn’t matter how wrong you are in any moment because you can fix it the next moment.

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