View Electronic Edition

Viridians Invade Whole Earth, Seize Means of Information

"Virtual community" was once a far fetched notion from San Francisco cyberspace. As a Whole Earth reader, you were hip to this concept long before normal people got hold of it and blew the seams off the economy.

In this issue, Whole Earth has finally been hoist on its digital petard. The Viridian Design Movement (www.viridiandesign.org), is a virtual community of high-tech greens. We have burst out of our customary nexus of lists and websites, and taken over the magazine.

The Viridian Movement began on the Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link, or WELL, because that is where I, your Special Guest Editor, hang out cyberspatially. The WELL is a primeval, cranky, yet potent virtual community in San Francisco (www.well.com/conf/mirrorshades/). Despite the fact that I use a WELL address in California, I live in central Texas. So when my wife upstairs on her Mac sends email to my home office, it has to route to the Bay Area and back, but that's not even weird any more.

Let me cut to the chase. We Viridian cybergreen, futurist, networking types are concerned with the Greenhouse Effect. Here's our pitch in a nutshell: we're tired of breathing the dirty garbage that gushes from smokestacks and tailpipes. These gizmos were designed and built by long-dead industrial titans such as Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and John D. Rockefeller. These industries are touchingly traditional, but you and I have to breathe our own exhaust, plus Henry's, Tom's, and John's, because we are historically downwind from them and CO2 stays up in the sky for centuries.

Our historical condition is to be trapped in a global garage with a giant, smoking engine. Breathing trash is a humiliation which is truly global; it extends to pandas, seals, whales, even moguls and Congressmen. Most of the time we pretend not to notice, because we've trained ourselves not to. But it's harder and harder to ignore the consequences, and all the really lively parts of this problem lie dead ahead of us.

We Viridians are natives of a Greenhouse world. We want to know what the Greenhouse really means and how it feels; not in some abstract, corny way, but in a way that's as immediate and visceral as breathing it.

For this issue of Whole Earth , I have shaken down my digital network and squeezed it into print. The mag is stuffed with heartfelt testimony from my Viridian friends and fellow travelers, a noble group of souls from Vancouver to Belgrade.

We Viridians are "Virtual Intelligentsia" types; our marvelous modems and our booming bandwidth are definitely not the point here. Instead, these are hands-on confessions about our new tools, new ideas, and new approaches.

My own line of work is science fiction writing; yes, that's my day job. The Internet is creating some starkly new possibilities here. One section of this magazine, "Futurefeedforward," looks rather like science fiction, but it isn't. It's design fiction: it boldly pretends that new technologies exist, then rapturously promotes them. It's rather like what Microsoft does when it floats nonexistent vaporware and promulgates "FUD" (fear, uncertainty, and doubt). When Microsoft does this, federal courts take an interest, but when Future feed forward does this, it's rad hipster culture-jamming. It works great, and it was made up by this cool guy on the net I know, this guy named Dave. Dave's in law school.

Let me demo a Viridian approach for you. Let's get all cozy and hands-on together. I'm typing this editorial in the Whole Earth office in San Rafael, California. I have traveled here from Austin ("Berkeley on the Colorado") because assembling a print magazine entirely by modem does not, in fact, work. Here at Whole Earth HQ, I've got a chipped Formica table, a grimy keyboard, and an ancient Macintosh. I'm beneath some raddled, burnt-out fluorescents in a corner of a large Victorian mansion, amid a maddening flotsam of Post-it notes, FedEx packs, eco-posters, and photocopies; a literary landscape of cornstarch packing noodles, Tyvek envelopes, and home-burnt CD-ROMs....

Soon this chaos will become the magazine, and to nerve myself up, I'm sipping a take-out coffee. The product of a litigious society, it sports a taut plastic safety lid and a recycled-paper "java jacket" so that it won't scorch my lips and fingers. As a final fillip, since this is California, a power blackout could happen at any moment that could crash this computer and/or take down its network connections.

So you see, once you start really paying attention, we break down those corny print-centric roles in which I am Special Guest Editor and you are a mere hapless reader. Instead, our relationship becomes appallingly like real life! This is just what us Viridians are into; we'd like to deal with the atmosphere that way. We'd like to carry that attitude into our entire engagement with material reality. We'd like to think about our tools, ideas and practices as if we were native denizens of some wiser and more advanced civilization! Where the twentieth century's phony-baloney ideology is a remote and fading apparition, and real-life human beings can deal with that funny burning smell and those rising winds!

This is much easier than it's usually allowed to look, so by the time you get through perusing this issue, you'll feel all up to speed about us Viridians and our plethora of obsessions. So let me just comfortably gloat for a while. I'm all touchingly grateful about editing Whole Earth . This experience has really gratified the inner 19-year-old. As a larval cyberpunk in the 1970s, I used to read this periodical with a limpid sensation of holy awe: "Man, these cats must be the hippest sons of bitches in the whole world!" And indeed they were, and now I are one! I only wish I could have conveyed their immemorial wisdom to everyone who started a dot-com: "What is it about Information wants to be free that you poor clowns don't understand?"

Our Guest Art Director Dave Nalle lives down the road from the Guest Editor in glamorous Manor, Texas. Though he teaches history and practices cowboy "action shooting," Dave's also my favorite font designer. (www.ragnarokpress.com/scriptorium) Dave's stock-in-trade at Scriptorium is to unearth antique hand lettering, then upgrade it for convenient use by twenty-first century mouse-jockeys. And we Viridians are, like, totally down with that. "Make it rot, Dave," I urged him feverishly as we conspired over a coffee table, licking our fingers and paging through an inoffensive issue of Whole Earth . "Punch holes in it! I want to see bookworms eating the margins! I want to see the past and the future, the digital and the handmade, colliding in rapture!" Most of the fonts in this issue are Dave's, and the graphic images, unless otherwise credited, are mostly from the Scriptorium collection.

And one more thing. During all of this editorial project all the boasting, praising, cajoling, and wheedling, indulging in witty asides I've been staring fixedly into a computer screen. Everybody in this issue of Whole Earth does that all the time. This is the Viridian default position. My kind of people try to exploit digital networks to facilitate grand schemes. They do this, not because of nifty megahype about the hardware, but because digital networks are the one apparition on the horizon that is of the same scale as our problems and our opportunities. With digital commerce in full retreat, that leaves plenty of bandwidth and elbow room for the likes of the Viridian Movement, Hybrid Vigor, Core77, General Thinkers, FuseFoundation, EcoTrust, and many others to whom you will be exposed in this issue.

There are a lot of words for these activities: we're "virtual communities," "guilds," "movements," "end users," "think tanks," "news lists," "websites," and so on. But as Viridians, we know that the hardware is a bitch. Technology offers us no "solutions," only historical contingencies. We're not "settling an electronic frontier." We are fleeing from obsolescence and bit-rot. We are decamping across the digital landscape like Eskimos, jumping and paddling from ice floe to ice floe, as machines go down, files vanish, blackouts hit and technology bites back. And we're getting better at it. Lots better. One fine day, because we were there, we're really going to understand all this: not just how it worked, but what it meant.

So have a nice long look. Thanks for your attention. See you on the wires.