Jackson Mississippi's Source for News and Jazz
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
To support WJSU text WJSU to 71777 or click the Donate button

The 'Whole Earth Catalog' was the internet before the internet


These days, the answer to almost any question is just a few keystrokes away.


But before the internet, searching for information could be much more time-consuming, so a lot of people turned to one publication that brought volumes of information together.

STEWART BRAND: The hippies called it a hippie bible. Steve Jobs called it the internet before the internet. We called it access to tools.

MARTÍNEZ: Stewart Brand was a co-founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, a kind of how-to guide for life in the '60s and '70s.

BRAND: And, you know, for the price of a book, you could learn how to make guitars, but just as easily fix a motorcycle or raise goats or bees.

MARTIN: By 1972, the Whole Earth Catalog had sold more than a million copies and won the National Book Award. It also let readers tune in to what was then called the counterculture.

FRED TURNER: You open it up, and there are, you know, pictures of wagons and tractors, but also calculators and psychedelic imagery. And it's, like, wait a minute. Where is this world?

MARTÍNEZ: Stanford University professor Fred Turner says it opened the door for a digital world.

TURNER: And so the computer becomes sort of a tool like the ones formerly offered in the Whole Earth Catalog. And the catalog itself becomes a model for an early and really important virtual community.

MARTIN: Brand had a hand in one of the earliest online communities when he pulled content from the original Whole Earth Catalog to create the Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link and give users a place to share ideas in real time.

BRAND: And that led to real discourse.

MARTÍNEZ: Thanks to the San Francisco art collective Gray Area, a nearly complete collection of Whole Earth publications is now available for visitors to flip through online - putting the internet before the internet on the internet.

(SOUNDBITE OF JIMI HENDRIX'S "JUNGLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.