O R G / After The DEMISE Party

It was never meant to last, only to review the existing tools, provide access, bring some people together, then disappear. After five years and four issues, we published THE LAST ^ UPDATED WHOLE EARTH CATALOG -- what had began as an idea on an airplane over Nebraska in March, 1968 to compile a collection of links to alternative media and resources, was a success. Over one and half million copies of the latest catalog were produced in fourteen printings. And then this other notion glimmered. Keep the job, finish the original assignment, and then stop.

How to Make Money was not the design problem. (I'd heard and bought Ken Kesey's advice that you don't make money by making money: you have that in mind early on, but then you forget it and concentrate entirely on good product; the money comes to pass.) The problem was How to Generate a Low-Maintenance High-Yield Self-Sustaining Critical Information Service. Our stopping is primarily an economic experiment. Rather than do the usual succession things we prefer to just cease supply, let demand create its own new sources. Our hope is that those sources will be more diverse and better than we have been or could have been if we continued.

So, we organized The DEMISE Party, inviting 1500 guests to celebrate the end of the Catalog and to give away $20,000 in cash, the proceeds from five years of operation. The announcement was made at 10:30 P.M., and for the next ten hours the party turned, variously, from town meeting to parliamentary conference, to debate, to brawl, to circus, and to bitching session. The crowd was dwindling: around 3 A.M. the I Ching was thrown, with inconclusive results.

It was then that Fred Moore spoke. Described later by a reporter as "a young man with wavy hair and a beard and an intense, earnest expression," Moore was upset that money was being labeled a savior and people were being bought. He thought the whole thing was getting to be a downer. He announced to the crowd that more important than the money was the event occurring right then. He noted that a poet had asked for money to publish a book of poems and someone had said, "We know where you can get paper," and someone else had suggested a cheap printer . . . and Fred thought that maybe people didn't need money to get what they wanted, just themselves. To illustrate the point, Fred began setting fire to dollar bills. Then people decided to take a vote whether to bother to spend the money; Moore opposed the vote, since voting in his view was a way of dividing people against each other. His opposition to the concept of voting so confused the issue that polling the audience didn't work. Then, after much more talk, Moore began circulating a petition which said, in part, "We feel the union of people here tonight is more important than money, a greater resource," and he urged people to sign their names to a piece of paper to keep in contact through a pragmatic networking. Finally, well after dawn, when there were around twenty people left, they said to hell with it, and gave the money to Fred Moore. To quote a Rolling Stone reporter's account, "Moore seemed to get the money by default, by persistence . . . Moore wandered around for a while, bewildered and awed, trying to get riders to accompany him back to Palo Alto and wondering aloud whether he should deposit the money in a bank account . . . then realized he had no bank account."

We've been here in the studio at 315 West 39th Street for over five years and now it's time to stop. O-R-G was always intended as a meta-project on the organization of a design practice, carefully staged and self-consciously produced. It was incorporated on the first business day of the year 2000, the studio was decorated to camouflage itself to its midtown location, the telephone number is professional (212 563 5900) while the voice mail message is not. It was never meant to last, only to review the existing tools, provide access, bring some people together, then disappear. (Thank you to everyone who has participated so far and to all who may be drafted into future affiliation!) Ideas we've had and evaluations we've made are free for recycling.

But, now it is time to re-organize. O-R-G will close the studio and reform as an ever-looser, always-expanding network of individuals connected through a common website and a distributed email list.

The message that you are reading now is the first of a series of occasional texts distributed through this email list. Because I know you or you have been to events here before or I think you may like this, I have added you to this list. (If you would rather not receive these emails, please unsubscribe following the instructions below.) I'd like to imagine this email list as a kind of Open Reading Group -- hovering somewhere between a book club and its book (or between a seminar and its syllabus, if you prefer.) The messages sent on this list will not be a group discussion nor will they be simple announcements (two common uses of mailing lists.) Rather, the texts may lead one to the other, in an indirect path, circumscribing the boundaries of one possible world-view. Perhaps you will enjoy, perhaps you will forward to others or recruit new members, perhaps you will participate and perhaps you will contribute.

We get asked a lot, "What's in the future for you folks," as if we knew. Well, let's see. We'll clean up the garage and sell the production equipment, maybe to Kesey who wants to start a traveling magazine called Spit in the Ocean. Us out-of-work production people will draw our two-weeks severance pay. We'll keep the Truck Store going in Menlo Park, and maybe try some new things with it in relation to Portrola Institute. We'll have our DEMISE party that Scott Beach has set up at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. We'll do some traveling. We'll take a ride on Patchen's coda:

And begin again.


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After The DEMISE Party