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20 Years of Weird—Eroweird
by Earth & Fire Erowid
Aug 2016
Originally published in Erowid Extracts #29
Citation:   Erowid. "20 Years of Weird—Eroweird". Erowid Extracts. Aug 2016;29:2-3. Online edition:
Though it began as a side project in 1995, Erowid rapidly became an immersive lifework for the two of us (Earth and Fire). It quickly moved to a 40-hour-a-week hobby and finally became an income-earning job in 1999, when we first asked for donations. In 2001, Sylvia Thyssen joined us, having already worked at MAPS and DanceSafe. Then in 2004, JL started helping, after experience with drug policy in the European Union. Between the four of us, we've collectively spent almost 80 years swimming in drug information soups.

Many Goals Reached
2016 was Erowid's 20th year of operation! With only a few minor service interruptions in two decades, we've achieved one of our major goals: to facilitate reliable access to and the evolution of information about psychoactive drugs, especially psychedelics. Erowid has been recognized widely as being part of the web's backbone of information about mind-affecting substances. And the community of drug geeks that has developed online has become increasingly diverse and robust.

A big part of our first decade of operations was to nail down basic concepts that were not universally known and hadn't already been articulated online. We developed memes related to careful decision making and mindfulness. We helped popularize the idea that personal responsibility in drug use is not only possible, but should be the norm. Erowid recorded examples that disproved the representation by prohibitionists that all unapproved use is irresponsible abuse. We also worked to definitively knock down some of the false myths that persisted in the psychoactive-using subcultures.

Through the Looking Screens
Since we first started Erowid, the two of us have always sat at side-by-side desktop computers, with chairs about arm's length apart. Our "HQ Command Center" has lived in four different houses: a laundry room office in Woodside where Erowid began; a wood-heated hippy cabin in the coastal redwood forest on the crest of the mountains south of San Francisco where Erowid went full time; a rural, suburban storage palace in the foothills near Grass Valley; and now, a magical closetless wood-beamed cabin (and barn!) jammed into the side of a chasm in California's gold country.

Our monitor real estate has expanded from one large CRT apiece (in the mid-1990s) to three large LCD screens each and a seventh oversize screen to share. With the need to stay connected to team members, contributors, supporters, and drug geeks around the world, we use dozens of different systems and services. We're constantly monitoring news, communications, drug-related publications, and forums, as well as our own technical server systems. WWW, IRC, XMPP, SSH, Skype, SMS, Twitter, Facebook, POTS, ICINGA. Oh my! Our primary undertaking is managing the flood of info.

The Tin Cup and the Waterfall
By mid-1996, we were already immersed in drug information overload. There were so many places where information was needed and yet most existing resources weren't accessible. When asked what it was like to run Erowid, Fire described a visualization that has stuck with us: We're standing in the midst of a torrential waterfall of information, flowing down on us from above. We're each holding a small tin cup, moving it around to try to catch the best, most important bits of information as they rush by.

There's a sense that we're constantly missing lots (even most!) of the interesting things in the streams of water, but there's always more on its way down. As soon as we hold out an empty cup, it fills up instantly with more information than one could ever hope to process, let alone understand or fully take in. But over time, as a species, working together, we can collaboratively improve our understanding of the data flowing by.

Time Fractal
When we reflect on how long we've lived our lives installed in Erowid HQ, we're struck by how strange time is. The world is weird. And for those who've been paying attention, it's been weird for a very long time.

Twenty years is the blink of a planet's eye, a femto second in the history of the universe, and yet it's half of a human's career. So here we sit companionably, side-by-side in our healthfully ergonomic chairs, 10-12 hours a day nearly every day, peering into the vastness through our wall of screens. Continuing twenty years of recursive post-post-postmodern anthropological documentary work that merges and swirls with the self-reflective fractal of consciousness.

Plants, Chems, Practices, & Techs
We study mind-altering tools and the people who use them. Once we scratched the surface of the topic of psychoactives, we realized the inherent feedback loop: changes to thinking shift choices about the tools that changed the thinking in the first place. The next generation of tools is then developed following experiences that were shaped by the current ones. Drugs, identity, art, technology, science, law, society, spirituality, and mindful practices: they each affect the others and the process rolls on and in and up and down.

There's a surreality to studying psychedelics and the emanating fields of weirdness that reverberate throughout all layers of society. Everything is psychoactive.

Photo Credits #
  1. Photos by Erowid.
Revision History #
  • v1.0 - Aug 2016 - published in Erowid Extracts.
  • v1.1 - Apr 2017 - Erowid - Published on