[The Rise and Fall of Wired] [Stephen Downes]

2. Information Wants to be Free

Direct Democracy. Wired 2.01 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.01/e.dem.html Good evening, citizens. The electronic town meeting is about to begin. Rememebr when Wired was in favour of the concept? The New Wired has Shenk saying " Actual direct democracy is a recipe for disaster - and that's not an overstatement." My reply.

Chaos is the Form. Wired 2.01 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.01/chaos.html Maybe a fractal is more descriptive of a company than a spreadsheet. We don't see Wired talking anything like that today.

New Mediaeval Aesthetic. Wired 2.01 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.01/mediaeval.html The power of information technology is obvious; let us see that it does not, by excluding some from its communion, invent serfdom anew. This intriguing article is not a Gee-Whiz portrayal of SCA (a la the Burning Man feature), but rather, poses an intriguing analogy. And well aimed - most geeks know their Medieval culture.

Kay + Hillis. Wired 2.01 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.01/kay.hillis.html The question that I keep asking myself is, where is the next frontier? Where is that place that a new world is being constructed? Do you know any candidates? Two visionaries, free-associating. We see nothing like that today.

Club Seen. Wired 2.01 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.01/club.seen.html "We work on the knowledge that people are moved by symbols on an unconscious level," says Dan Mapes, the founder of the Digital Media RealityLab in San Francisco. "What we are doing is really just a part of the shamanistic tradition of taking the tribe on a trip to another world, so that when they return they bring a different sense of relativity and perspective on their lives."

Wired 2.01 was a brilliant issue. On many levels, it tapped into the pulse of the edge. I had read the previous issues, but 2.01 made me into a believer.

The funny thing is - in today's archive, on the main page, are listed an item from mainstream publishing (Copeland's Microserfs), a reference to a mainstream political issue (Clinton's health care plan), and a mainstream film (Jurassic Park). None of which I picked as highlights. This, more than anything else, shows the gulf between today's Wired and Wired As It Once Was.

"The fashionable, faux futurism predicts that this time will be different, that this time new media technology will guarantee the individual the upper hand over the advertiser. More likely, we'll see these new media renegotiate the power between individuals and advertisers...Yesterday, we changed the channel; today, we hit the remote; tomorrow, we'll reprogram our agents/filters. We'll interact with advertising where we once only watched; we'll seek out advertising where we once avoided it."
- Michael Schrage, on the future of advertising (WIRED 2.02, page 71)
Oh, the irony.

Wiring Japan. Wired 2.02 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.02/wiring.japan.html So he and some friends rolled up their sleeves and started laying cable. The edge. Personified. In Japan. Great stuff. Wouldn't it be great to see a Wired report on the internet scene in Japan today?

The Medium is the Message and the Message is Voyeurism. Wired 2.02 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.02/voyeur.html Clearly we are wiring ourselves in, each to the other. We seem to be creating through media and communications technology what some have called a species-wide nervous system. Here R.U.Sirius gives us the vision thing. Back when Wired analyzed television instead of worshipping it.

Is Advertising Finally Dead? Wired 2.02 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.02/advertising.html Ads become a medium of collaboration between potential buyer and potential seller. Good examples: Yahoo. Firefly. Bad example: Hotwired. Too bad Hotwired's marketing staff didn't read their own mag.

Stealth Watchers. Wired 2.02 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.02/stealth.watchers.html To those who criticize their listening in and who accuse them of endangering national security, Douglass and other monitors answer: "Hey, Radio Shack sells to the bad guys too; anything we can hear, the spies can hear too." More hacker ethos. Remember when uppin' the man was good?

In the Kingdom of Mao Bell. Wored 2.02 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.02/mao.bell.html The Chinese were born to hack. A billion of them jammed together have created the world's most efficient system for honing and assimilating new tech. Compare this point of view to the tsk tsk approach taken on software piracy in Hong Kong reported in Wired a few years later.

Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.
Thomas Jefferson
Mail Bonding. Wired 2.03 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.03/e-mail.html Yet for all its alleged virtues, e-mail is a surprisingly quirky medium. Too true. Remember when Wired analysed the shape and nature of the virtual culture?

It's the Context, Stupid. Wired 2.03 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.03/context.html It is not content but context that will matter most a decade or so from now. The scarce resource will not be stuff, but point of view. Visionary. Reminds me of Wired's Last Good Article, the one on search engines. That was before Wired acquired a stake in the business and stopped reporting on it.

The Economy of Ideas. Wired 2.03 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.03/economy.ideas.html Intellectual property law cannot be patched, retrofitted, or expanded to contain digitized expression any more than real estate law might be revised to cover the allocation of broadcasting spectrum (which, in fact, rather resembles what is being attempted here). We will need to develop an entirely new set of methods as befits this entirely new set of circumstances. Heady, big-vision stuff.

Johnny Manhattan meets the Furry Muckers. Wired 2.03 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.03/muds.html It's not the shock of recognition, it's the shock of communication. The organic sensation that you're connected to people evaporates from the printed page. When was the last time you saw a report in Wired about an actual online community? And felt the sensation of... it's us they're writing about?

Compost of Empire. Wired 2.04 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.04/compost.empire.html You can get along in Moscow, by means not always conventional, by means not always legal. People make allowances. You may not have the cash, but there's always some good Joe around who'll spare you a cig and a chunk of sausage. Bruce Sterling exhibits an intuitive sense of the memes that resonate in geeks.

The issue with Bill Gates on the cover was a dozer. Surprised?

I think it was with this issue that Wired began to change. The very next issue featured, for the first time, a Top 10 list. Original, eh? And Wired 2.06 signaled a change from attempting to understand foreign cultures - as expressed in the several articles listed above - to trashing them, as in Wired 2.06's "France's Jerry Lewis Media Policy".

But there was still some good stuff...

The War Between alt.tasteless and rec.pets.cats. Wired 2.05 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.05/alt.tasteless.html It wasn't Trashcan Man's idea to raid rec.pets.cats, though I'm sure he wished it had been. More about us.

alt.pave.the.earth. Wired 2.06 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.07/alt.pave.html "Devilbunnies are the evil spawn of Satan, the very incarnation of evil who have come to take over the world and destroy humanity and life on Earth as we know it."

So, People, We Have a Fight on Our Hands. Wired 2.07 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.07/sterling.cfp.html I'm sorry that a community this young should have to face a fight this savage, for such terribly high stakes, so soon. But what the heck; you're always bragging about how clever you are. Distant early warnings of the CDA and encryption wars.

Patently Absurd. Wired 2.07 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.07/patents.html Compton's president, Stanley Frank, stated it smugly for the press: "We invented multimedia." Of course, now, Compton is one of the good guys. Right?

The rock star, up on stage, bathed in light, inaccessible, is an outdated image from a defunct society. In a world where information plus technology equals power, those who control the editing rooms run the show. DJs are editors of the street.
This would be some time before the Brian Eno cover story.

The Schank Tank. Wired 2.08 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.08/schank.html Roger Schank decides that the best way to make a machine think is to first make it teach. Now there's a good idea. And it's so much more interesting to read these AI guru's - like Schank, Papert, Minsky, and others - ideas than, say, Kevin Kelly Interviews Miss Manners (Wired 5.11).

Digital Dharma.Wired 2.08 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.08/dharma.html "We give everything away. We've given away 10,000 discs now to 50 countries -- we just had our first order from Africa.... It's very exciting, the idea of nobody owning it now." As geeks have understood for a long time - we are reaching into an ancient ethos here. It is the doctrine or ownership and corporation that is unnatural. And you have to admit - these Tibetan monks redefine cool.

Guerillas in the Myst. Wired 2.08 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.08/myst.html I thought that things keep changing, that the engine of democratization sitting on so many desktops is already out of control, is already creating new players in a new game. Digging into the meaning of a phenomenon. Good stuff.

Satellite Pirates.Wired 2.08 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.08/satellite.html ...compliance cannot be achieved by moral or legal pressure. For most people, theft of data is in no way a moral issue; it doesn't create even a twinge of guilt.

Gimme Two Records and I'll make You a Universe. Wired 2.08 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.08/spooky.html Watching the DJs at work, I began to see them as information filters, sorting through the overwhelming flow of records and extracting the relevant data. What's the relation between geeks, designer drugs, and alternative clubs? This article tries to explore the idea before it becomes mainstream.

Online or Not, Newspapers Suck. Wired 2.09 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.09/news.suck.html Online papers pretend to be seeking and absorbing feedback, but actually offer the illusion of interactivity without the reality, the pretense of democratic discussion without yielding a drop of power. Did Katz say this? And yet - here we have described the very model used by Hotwired!

Fran-On-Demand. Wired 2.09 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.09/cable.labs.html Never before has so much investment and hype and ingenuity gone into such a trivial task as replacing the video store. yet another illustration of the credo that, with new technology, we should be doing things differently, rather, we should be doing different things. What different things? Well, we used to go to Wired to find out...

A disturbing trend begins to emerge in the IF (Idess Forte) section of Wired 2.09. Two articles - one on how to charge for freely distributed software, and another (by George Lucas) on how to sell education - appear. The 'software for free' paradigm so lavishly endorsed in previous issues (as documented above) is beginning to twist...

The foreign-bashing accelerates as well, with Negropronte's "Why is Europe so Unwired?" in the same issue.

And the push toward commercialism continues with the article "Universal Service: An Idea Whose Time is Past", in which it is argued " The hard truth, however, is that it is time to bury universal service - to bury it slowly, gently, and with great care to preserve both its spirit and its many achievements." http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.09/universal.access.html

But suddenly, when it all looked like it was going to collapse into itself...

Suddenly technology has given us powers with which we can manipulate not only external reality- the physical world - but also, and much more portentously, ourselves. You can become whatever you want to be."
Enter the web...

Billions Registered. Wired 2.10 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.10/mcdonalds.html Right now, there are no rules to keep you from owning a bitchin' corporate name as your own Internet address. And it was toooooo funny.

Goodbye, Gutenberg. Wired 2.10 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.10/ejournals.html "People have stopped saying, 'I don't know if the shift to electronic publication will really happen,' " Okerson says. "What they are now saying is, 'This is really happening, and how will it change the way we work?' " All of a sudden, we found a way around those $10,000 per year subscriptions.

Muriel Cooper's Legacy. Wired 2.10 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.10/cooper.html Now, take this a level further. Think about very smart text and graphics, objects that not only know how to react visually to the content but also how to react structurally. Sound like HTML? And isn't it nice to read a heady theory of HTML rather than a how to build cool pages?

The (Second Phase of the) Revolution Has Begun. Wired 2.10 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.10/mosaic.html When it comes to smashing a paradigm, pleasure is not the most important thing. It is the only thing.

Just in time, the geeks delivery a technology which smashes any corporate intentions and knowcks the internet on its head. It gives Wired new life just as it was about to take the plunge into the corporate abyss.

In the very next issue we see the idea of Cyber Rights headlined for the first time.

Stop the Digital Telephony Bill. Wired 2.11 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.11/departments/digitel.html

Tired: NASA. Wired: Amateurs. Wired 2.11 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.11/amspace.html The real private space program is happening in garages across America. Analogy: the real internet is being built in bedrooms across America. Well, and Canada too, but I digress...

We're Teen, We're Queer, and We've Got E-mail. Wired 2.11 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.11/gay.teen.html The struggle for equal rights has always taken place on the frontier of the legal wilderness where liberty meets power. yeah... but how can you charge them for that? No longer an issue, at least in this article. Thankfully.

Hackers: Threat or Menace? Wired 2.11 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.11/hack.cong.html "I won't sell it." He sounded offended by the idea. "A true hacker never does that. One of the overriding tenets of hackerdom is that information wants to be free, and a lot of us take that very seriously. You have to understand, my motivation isn't to ride free on the subway. I was born and raised in this city, and I've always paid my way. I'd just like to understand the system a little bit better. It's a purely intellectual interest on my behalf." And suddenly, it's all OK again. Wired 2.09 is two months old and already dusty on the shelf.

Living Data. Wired 2.11 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.11/hack.cong.html The problem with data is that it's dead. We should bring it back to life by thinking through all the relationships it participates in. A restatement of the vision thing.

"A generation ago, almost everyone shared common media. That universality has been shattered, probably for good. Information now splits along demographic, political and cultural fault lines...

...We all look into our separate mirrors now, and mostly see ourselves looking back. What was universal in the post-war years has become the media of the middle class, the political and policy structure, the aging and increasingly self-righteous boomers."
Jon Katz, three years before tarring all with the same brush in The Digital Citizen

VLIW: Beyond RISC. Wired 2.12 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.12/departments/geek.page.html It was called "The Geek Page" and they actually used the slogan, "Postcards from the Edge". Remember?

Making Every Vote Count. Wired 2.12 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.12/vote.count.html A US software jockey helps create the technical infrastructure for the election of the century - in South Africa. Global perspective makes a resurgance.

Power to the People Wired 2.12 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.12/whitehouse.html Will we really be participating in self-government? Or will we just be made to feel that we have a say in what goes on? Schwartz opines for the former. Direct democracy is back in fashion again.

We're back at the beginning: There's never been a better year to live than 1994. Except for 1995. God, do I sound like a "Better Living Through Chemistry" industrial film, or what?
Douglas coupland, in Wired 2.12

[3. Transition]