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Student 6

Page history last edited by Katherine Pandora 4 years, 9 months ago

Clyde's Page


The Whole Earth Catalog (WEC) was an American magazine and catalogs for products such as tools, books, clothing, etc. that was published between 1968 and 1972 by Stewart Brand. The magazine did not sell the products but instead listed the vendor’s contact information with the description about the product, reviews, and images. I think of it as a 70s book form of Amazon. The Whole Earth Catalog had many fucntions other than just a normal sale catalog used for shopping. It helped with day-to-day problems, for instance if you had car troubles you can use the catalog to buy a manual to help fix it If you wanted to start a business, the catalog was full of how-to books to get you that information. Updates for the magazine were required to keep the availability and price of the products up to date so numerous editions were published throughout the year. The catalog is organized into seven broad sections: 

  • ·         Understanding Whole Systems
  • ·         Shelter and Land Use
  • ·         Industry and Craft
  • ·         Communications
  • ·         Community
  • ·         Nomadic
  • ·         Learning





The items that I picked from the Whole Earth Catalog are “The Japanese Abacus “(p. 63) and “Calculators” (p.268). I picked this item because I wanted to know how the calculator evolved throughout time. The Japanese Abacus, known as the soroban, is a wooden counting tool that uses counting beads that slides back and forth along rods. It can perform addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. As time passed technology improved and people had the ability to invent the electronic calculator, a portable device used to perform complex mathematical operations. Pocket sized calculators could be made by manufactures such as Texas Instruments (T.I), Hewlett-Packard, and Casio, using low-power consumption chips allowing them to be powered by batteries. Because of this and the fact that they were being sold for about ten dollars the popularity of the device grew in the mid-1970s. Today many people (especially high school and college students) use a scientific calculator, a type of electronic calculator that can be used for solving problem with trigonometry and algebraic expression and can display graphs.


The abacus is now obsolete because of the convenience of the electronic calculator and its capability to perform complex mathematical operation. It is still used today in some countries like Japan especially by the children to enhance their mental calculation ability. Classes can be taken to learn how to use an abacus. People back then and today would buy an abacus and learn how to use it for collection purposes or maybe to be like one of those hipster that uses a typewriter when a laptop can do the job better. 


The Whole Earth catalog has everything you can think of from instruction manuals on how to fix cars to board games such as Dungeons and Dragons similar to the modern day internet. You can search for specific items and it wasn’t just from the United States, it was items from all over the world such as the Japanese abacus. The Whole Earth Catalog gave people a voice by giving them the ability to share their personal opinion about the products listed for other people to read, an aspect that did not get reflected in the early personal computer culture. However, just like the internet, people can post anything they want and you wouldn’t know if it’s reliable or not.




Excerpts from From Counterculture to Cyberculture Steward Brand, the Whole Earth Network and the Rise of Digital Utopianism by Fred Turner


  • “Neither book nor magazine, nor traditional mail-order outlet, the Whole Earth Catalog represented something new in publishing, and no one at the time could say quite what” (Turner 71). – Just like the internet The Whole Earth Catalog was one of the many major innovations of its time that connected people and information
  • “The Catalog served to make items of use available to an emerging, geographically distributed network of communes. At another, it served as a textual forum within which back-to-the-landers could meet one another, as well as technologist, academics, and artists, and share information” (Turner 79). – The catalog crossed multiple generations and social economic levels. This gave people with multiple backgrounds to talk about various items in the catalog similar to a forum on the internet
  •  For Brand, The Whole Earth Catalog was simultaneously a whole system in its own right and a tool for its readers to use in improving the whole systems that were their lives and the world in which they lived in” (Turner 82).



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