THE CATALOG: FROM PLOUGHS TO CLOUDS
by Maya Przybylski
in Bracket No.1
EDITED BYMason White and Maya Przybylski
Since the late nineteenth century, the catalog served an important role as a disseminator of knowledge and access to tools, becoming through this role an emblematic symbol of geographically dispersed communities. Often considered a means of selling products, the catalog has always performed a more nuanced social role. In its earlier forms, the catalog’s role was limited to a one-way, single-voiced, broadcaster of information. The reimagining of the catalog’s potential in the 1960s, exemplified by Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog, extended the catalog’s role into a participatory forum of information exchange. Through this evolution, the catalog developed into a prototypical information service for decentralized, geographically distributed communities. Further, the catalog operated as a testing ground for exploring the potentials of leveraging mass collaboration as a way to add value–—a concept now commonly referred to as crowdsourcing. Coupled with the global reach of the internet, an inversion of sorts has now taken place. At their inception, catalogs served farms; now, catalogs are themselves the farmers.