One of the greatest assets of computer based social networking is the ability to mobilize groups of like minded individuals into meaningful action. In many ways, the capabilities to mobilize action have been the greatest accomplishments of offline social networks toward the advancement of ecologically positive initiatives.
The first green social network initiative was created by Stewart brand in the late nineteen sixties as a part of the American counter-culture, or also known as hippie, movement. The initiative was materialized in the form of a quarterly catalog called the Whole Earth Catalog. This catalog brought together several of the best ideas of what we still recognize as successful grass roots organization in the online world of social media today. In many ways, the Whole Earth Catalog defined our understanding of socially conscious green social networking on the internet. Steve Jobs, the late CEO or Apple Computers, even referred to the Whole Earth catalog as a precursor to the internet.
The Whole Earth Catalog was different from other catalogs as it focused on collecting resources for ecologically sustainable living from the social network of like minded counter culture members, already members of smaller green communities across the United States and Canada. The catalog collected recommendations on building materials, all kinds of reading material from science to philosophy to how to manuals, farm equipment and cutting edge communications equipment as well as a plethora of other items that focused on independent and ecologically sustainable green living. This catalog did not sell the products for profit, but rather listed the items from various sources with their prices. The value add was on one level to provide a consolidated list of relevant items and the locations where you could purchase them. Beyond this, though, the catalog also published community reviews on the products – the first catalog to provide such a feature.
The catalog went beyond merely selling products, however. It was about unifying disconnected smaller social networks spread out in small green communities throughout North America and create a common culture. In order to do this, the catalog also posted reader submitted poetry, how to guides for practical building, farming and maintenance topics, and philosophies of sustainable living. The catalog even published a short novel, incorporated throughout its pages and split up as a serial story. These attempts at creating a common culture were as important to the social network it was supporting as the products it was offering. This common culture was then mobilized as a group to slowly raise the awareness of the importance of ecological issues on a national level, eventually convincing the United States congress to create a national day in remembrance of green initiatives, Earth Day.
We have gone back in time to talk about early green social networks in order to remind us of how important and effective green social networks can be. The same things that worked well for Stewart Brand’s early green social network work well for us in the online communities of the early twenty first century. The ability to share tips and best practices with like minded individuals reminds us of the best that Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog brought about in the nearly decade of publication it was available. The creation of common culture is also an important part of the growth and solidarity of the ecologically aware social network. Social Networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are wonderful tools the encourage the creation of an effective social network. This is not just through the ability of these sites to quickly communicate green friendly news and provide ways to acquire resources in this effort, but also because they allow users to share stories and art that help in the creation of a common culture that ultimately leads to effective, mobilized action.