The Whole Earth Catalog, a counterculture magazine that lasted from 1968 to 1998, tried many experiments in bringing the goals and nature of their publication to other media.
Published regularly from 1968 to 1972 with additional editions throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s, Stewart Brand’s magazine covered all sorts of subjects, from nature and politics to technology and human potential. Issues can still be found online and bought used, and are beloved by many, either as a study or just a glimpse into a very idealistic, very technically-oriented view of the world.
One of these editions was the The Electronic Whole Earth Catalog, a CD-ROM version of the publication produced in 1989.
We have now made The Electronic Whole Earth Catalog emulate inside your browser: Click here to boot up a vintage 1988 Black and White Macintosh running this Catalog.
Weighing in at an impressive 430 megabytes of information, this CD-ROM contained over 9,000 individual pages done in Hypercard, the Web-Before-The-Web version of hyperlinks and document reading created by Bill Atkinson of Apple Computer, and available for Macintosh computers through the 1980s and 1990s. One of the great dead mediums, the power of Hypercard has shown itself to be ahead of its time and providing a deep amount of potential of hyperlinking, one which the World Wide Web would demonstrate.
The Internet Archive has been collecting Hypercard “Stacks” (documents) for years now, in partnership with the site Hypercard Online —a group that has been providing easy ways to upload user-created Hypercard Stacks that might otherwise be very time-consuming and difficult to interact with. As of now, the Hypercard Stacks collection on Internet Archive has over 3,500 examples.
A Quick Tour
Interacting with an emulator acting like a 1988 Macintosh that is then running a CD-ROM’s worth of data as a huge (9,000 page!) Hypercard stack is quite a huge task for a browser, even in 2020. The first issue is the download size and time. Once you click on the “show me the emulation” start button in the preview window, it will take you a while to download all 430 megabytes. For some it’ll be a few minutes, but others may take a whole lot longer.
Once it starts up (with happy mac and the rest), you will find yourself looking at a Macintosh desktop, which has an icon for the Electronic Whole Earth Catalog, which is a floppy disk image named EWEC.
Click on the desktop, double-click on the EWEC “floppy” icon, and it all begins. There’s a file called “Home” inside this EWEC disk, and you click on that to start the show.
In Hypercard, everything is a “Card” and those cards have “Links”, which go to other cards.
You move through indexes of other cards and read what they have to say, sometimes having to click through multiple cards on a single subject. The nature of the cards is very similar to the original approach of the Whole Earth Catalog that it’s drawn from. If you’ve never read a Whole Earth Catalog, it’s usually presented as a series of short articles and pointers to a range of subjects of interest to those who want to be part of the nature of humanity as seen through a techno-hippie lens.
Many of the paths in this collection are meant to be meandering—moving through straight-up indexes as well and unusually laid-out menus and pictures you can interact with. Back in 1989, it was all experimental and new—you’ll find excitement and frustration, eye-opening approaches and confusing bits. That’s the wild and free part of this era, and we encourage you to try it all.
Thanks to everyone who made this happen: Drew Coffman who started a conversation about it, Kevin Kelly who mentioned he had a copy of the EWEC in his possession, and then a bunch of folks who joined in with technical support to turn that copy into an online disk image, and then a emulated Macintosh: Stephen Cole, Noah Bacon, Natalia Portillo, Claudia Dawson, and others.
Now start clicking!