It began some months after graduation from high school, an event itself not without note when viewed against my performance and transcript, or lack thereof. To this day, based upon what I did, or did not do, in those three years, I’m stunned that a diploma is included in my cache of lifetime stuff on the top shelf of my closet.
High school had been, with few exceptions, an unremarkable experience, with results to match. I excelled in automotive shop, study hall (during which no studying happened), and phys ed (during which Mike and I retreated to the furthest corner of the athletic field for a game of what we laughingly referred to as handball; precious little physical activity, much idle discussion of cars and girls).
Something more than public school was needed to ignite a love of learning. It came later than would have been optimal and in unexpected form.
During one or another of the lost evenings spent with the guys, all of which constitute only a haze lacking in detail, I noticed a oversize paperback book with the iconic NASA Apollo 17 photo of the earth on the cover, sitting on someone’s table. The subtitle in lower case stated “access to tools”. Piquant. Over the course of several similar evenings, I could be found less engaged in the conversation or music, but instead with The Whole Earth Catalog open before me.
It was the product of Stewart Brand, a work which opened with this statement:
“We are as gods and might as well get used to it. So far, remotely done power and glory as via government, big business, formal education, church has succeeded to the point where gross obscure actual gains. In response to this dilemma and to these gains a realm of intimate, personal power is developing power of the individual to conduct his own education, find his own inspiration, shape his own environment, and share his adventure with whoever is interested. Tools that aid this process are sought and promoted by the WHOLE EARTH CATALOG.”
“access to tools”.
I understood tools. Dad possessed tools in his basement workshop. I used tools at the small manufacturing business where I worked after school. Even with my then-narrow definition of “tools”, a bell in my head, silent through most of high school, began to ring.
Over what became a protracted period of time with the Catalog, reading every page, I came to adopt “access to tools” as a definition for learning, the practical skill of how to think, how to reason, how to research, how to define, how to logic out causes, objectives, alternatives, resources, processes and solutions, to locate and acquire information which can be leveraged for specific, practical purposes, for each unique circumstance which may arise. This definition has lasted a lifetime. It is both central and crucial to the work I have done to make a living since the beginning of my working life some forty years ago.
In the first edition, Brand set forth “The Function of the Whole Earth Catalog”:
“The WHOLE EARTH CATALOG functions as an evaluation and access device. With it, the user should know better what is worth getting and where and how to do the getting.
It seems to me that, conceptually, the Whole Earth Catalog prefigured the internet in its intent, doing with ink and paper what I now do with my my Chromebook and Nexus 5, in orders of magnitude unimaginable in 1968. “Tools” now define more than the hard goods which met Brand’s requirements for inclusion. The definition I accept now encompasses information of all kinds, as well as the technology used to obtain it and make use of it.
As Brand stated even as recently as 1986:
“Live and learn” is a redundancy. Live is learn.”