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

3. Transition

The advent of the World Wide Web beathed new life into Wired. The web signalled a resurgance of the individual outlaw coder and a new medium where new ideas were surfacing. And all of a sudden, Wired's style made sense. The interwoven stores, multi-coloured text - these were exemplars of multi-threading and hypertext. People like the way Wired looked not because they liked garish colours. They like the way it looked because it read the way new media reads. The more conservative look is not only a step back from the edge, it is also (more significantly) a step away from new media.

The web probably also signialled a significant rise in Wired's readership, thus staving off the corporate wolves for a few years. And it would take corporations another couple of years to understand the web, much less recognize its significance.

The Letter U and the Numeral 2. Wired 3.01 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.01/departments/electrosphere/negativland.html Innocuous and very funny, U2 was signature Negativland. It's a lot more fun to read stuff about rebels spoofing U2 than it is to read about U2.

Sex, Lies, and Cyberspace. Wired 3.01 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.01/departments/electrosphere/sex.lies.typing.html First my stats said that I was 35/m (35, male). Then I was 22/f. Then I was 18/m. Then I was 13/f. I much enjoyed being 13/f. A newbie AOLer meets the chat lines. Our culture, through the wide-open eyes of the innocent.

Universal Service Does Matter. Wired 3.01 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.01/departments/glaser.if.html "When I gave food to the poor, they called me a saint. When I asked why the poor were hungry, they called me a Communist." Hey, it was OK to say stuff like this back then, even if you were the founder of Progressive Networks.

Triumph of the Plastic People. Wired 3.01 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.01/features/prague.html And when the return-of-the-repressed came, and the regime cracked and fell apart, these mad hippies acquired a cultural authority and credibility like no mad hippies have had ever before, anywhere, any time. Bruce Sterling reports on the revenge of the Nerds from Czechoslovakia.

The Wired Scared Shitlist. Wired 3.01 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.01/features/shitlist.html "Welcome back. You're listening to Tuned Into America. Today's topic: the first use of offensive nuclear weapons since Nagasaki. Should we step in to stop the exchanges between India and Pakistan? Line 1, who are you? Where are you?" Not only is informed prognostication fun, it's also remarkably accurate.

Revolution in the Revolution. Wired 3.01 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.01/features/debray.html While the neurosciences are dedicated to overcoming the inherited duality between mind and brain, mediology tries to view history by hybridizing technology and culture. Yes. Again: the culture of the internet is distinct from mass media culture.

Stochastic Screening. Wired 3.02 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.02/departments/geek.page.html Ultimately, he sees screening as a form of binary feng shui, in which, aided by probabilistic analysis, the interaction of each individual dot with its context combines to produce exactly the desired effect. Now just sit down and think about that for a bit...

The irony is, you're victims of your own hype. As a result, just as newspapers are trying to outdo each other with more graphics and fewer words, thinking that's the way to grab younger readers, so many of you are now slapping versions of your magazine on disc or online.

Here's what I think - you'll go online, nothing really interesting will happen for one or two years, and you'll write off interactivity as a failure. But the first question should have been: Who really wants a magazine online? A magazine in its present form is OK. It's tangible and tactile. It's portable and personal. It has visual impact. You can pick it up and put it down whenever you want. It's already wonderfully interactive.

Barry Diller offers this sage advice in Wired 3.02 - advice the designers of HotWired would have done well to read.

Don't Repackage - Redefine!. Wired 3.02 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.02/departments/electrosphere/diller.html Have you played around in different parts of the Internet? If not, before you push your publication online, go online yourself, play with it, let it and its possibilities seep into you.

Viruses Are Good for You. Wired 3.02 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.02/features/viruses.html Still, despite rather severe restrictions on the agents' ability to replicate, it's hard to deny certain broad similarities between intelligent agents and the offerings of your typical Vx board. More high-concept stuff. I'll bet the authors of ICQ read this and then got down to work...

You're Not Paranoid: They Really Are Watching You. Wired 3.03 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.03/departments/electrosphere/security.html Because each employee's badge emits a unique signal, the computer system "knows" where any given employee is at all times. Are Comm Badges that far away?

Faded Genes. Wired 3.03 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.03/departments/blonder.if.html We will be driven to extinction by a smarter and more adaptable species - the computer. And our only hope is to try and accelerate human evolution with the aid of genetic engineering. An audacious problem. An even more audacious solution. Nothing was sacred in the old Wired.

Power Pundit. Wired 3.03 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.03/features/colony.html Information in our industry is virtually free. No one will pay you for the information. They will pay you, however, for your analysis of what it means. And that takes a lot of thinking. That's very, very hard to do. As we've seen above, that's when Wired does its best stuff.

Shape Shifter. Wired 3.04 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.04/departments/electrosphere/backes.html The idea that there are theorists of network communication, outside of an academic ivory-tower mutual masturbation society, is amazing. They want to build cyberspace. It is going to change the world. I would have phrased it differently, but the point is well taken. The real geniuses in the field are those who are right now building MUDs and other multi-user interactive engines. Not the doobs in Hollywood or even the CEOs in Silicon Valley.

Not Human Resources, Humans! Wired 3.04 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.04/departments/bechdol.if.html Ask them: "Where are the people?" Most Wired and Hotwired staff do not have personal pages, just the generic Hotwired user pages. But: the internet is all about person-to-person. When is the last time Wired featured a personal site?

Agent of Change. Wired 3.04 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.04/features/maes.html Delegation is the only way to cope with how much work you have. Now I have an agent (Your Morning Paper) scouting sites like Hotwired looking for changes. What would I like to see in my mag today? Information on how to build and/or customize agents.

Automata Non Grata. Wired 3.04 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.04/features/irc.html Red Sonja poked at her keyboard and pulled up a file, which appeared to be a log from a recent night on an IRC channel called #callahans. There I was. Or rather, there was someone posing as me. More beat from the underground.

What's It Mean to Be Human, Anyway? Wired 3.04 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.04/features/turing.html As I think about it, I realize that I definitely do not want to be written up in the national press as the least human participant in an artificial intelligence contest. More dated than Minsky and Papert, but the Turing Test is still good stuff.

Wired 3.04 was Wired doing what it does best - taking an aspect of internet technology, in this case, agents, and looking at it from all sides. Good issue, if we ignore the brown-nosing "Viacom Doesn't Suck" article.

The Age of Paine. Wired 3.05 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.05/features/paine.html The Net offers what Paine and his revolutionary colleagues hoped for - a vast, diverse, passionate, global means of transmitting ideas and opening minds. Diversity was still OK for Katz in 1995. Worshipping Paine, however, seems a bit of a stretch.

digital refusnik. Wired 3.05 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.05/features/refusnik.html Birkerts: The erosion of presence, the loss of immediacy of engagement, whether person-to-person or person-to-environment. The opposite of presence to me is virtuality, simulation. I see the polarity as central to our time. A good description of what can go wrong online. (Geeks do not fear intelligent opposition. They embrace it.)

Wired 3.05 - With Brian Eno on the cover - signals a slide back into corporate mediocrity. Aside from the Eno article, we also have Sterling telling us hackers are bad, Fryer touting the software police, Andrews trashing the French, and a big effort to compare the net to radio (Lappin), television (van Bakel) and print (Katz). International coverage, if it can be called that, consisted of Glessen telling us "Long the pioneers in Russian culture, scientists and technologists are trailblazing the newest frontier - business. " Wired 3.05 was about the mainstreaming of new media - even though Wired never came out and told us that. Wired 3.01 - the white one - sits on my shelf, a beer ring proudly etched on the clear cover. It is a testament to the days when the may would curl in my jacket pocket and accompany me for a week or so while I gleaned its contents. Wired 3.05 was the beginning of the end of all that. While there would still be a lot of good stuff, more and more, the magazine turned mainstream, an about-face which was completed with Wired 6.01.

Wired 3.06 gave us the Johnny Mnemonic cover, Wired's first surrender to Hollywood. No coincidence, that.

Life in the digital city. Wired 3.06 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.06/departments/electrosphere/digcity.html Perhaps the greatest success of the Digital City, and no doubt the driving force behind its booming growth, is the ability to capture the enthusiasm of its citizens. Lesson here. The digital city starts off as a free community-based enterprise. Then it goes commecial and becomes a ghost town.

A Globe, Clothing Itself with a Brain. Wired 3.06 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.06/departments/electrosphere/teilhard.html "Teilhard's work is about creating a consciousness so profound it will make good company for God itself." Big vision stuff again. And more insight into how today's geeks are tapping ancient roots.

Interview with the Luddite. Wired 3.06 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.06/features/saleskelly.html "Only a people serving an apprenticeship to nature can be trusted with machines. Only such people will so contrive and control those machines that their products are an enhancement of biological needs, and not a denial of them." Geeks embrace the intelligent opposition because geeks are not afraid to learn.

You Say You Want More Bandwidth? Wired 3.07 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.07/departments/geek.page.html Nakazawa has recently shown he can send soliton data down a fiber at 10 Gbits per second. We installed our first fibre-optics channels in 1996. The real lesson here: when predicting the future, assume unlimited bandwidth.

Big Bang Bust. Wired 3.07 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.07/departments/electrosphere/rucker.html He uses computer simulations for much of his research, and he has recently suggested that our universe may be the result of a physicist-hacker's experiment. The point here is the ethos of creating worlds. This is much more interesting than creating companies.

As we made our way past babble fish and Vogon poetry readings, I discovered that what happens when we play a game of interactive fiction is not what happens when we read a book. The difference is not of degree but of kind.

Information is organized differently - but more importantly, after the game, I am organized differently. I experience myself differently. I frame things differently.

-Richard Thieme, in Wired 3.07.

In Search of the Grail. Wired 3.07 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.07/departments/thieme.if.html The quest in all of its forms is a spiritual journey framed by archetypal symbols of both good and evil. Another conversion experience. Wired authors should be required to spend a year in a MUD before they are allowed to commit their thoughts to print.

Revolutionary Evolutionist. Wired 3.07 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.07/features/dawkins.html Life Results from the Non-Random Survival of Randomly Varying Replicators. This article resonates at several levels. For me: writing a program called "Life" as part of my first year Computer Science course in the 80s. It was, I think, a ritual every geek went through.

Intellectual Value. Wired 3.07 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.07/features/dyson.html In the world of the Net, content (including software) will serve as advertising for services such as support, aggregation, filtering, assembly and integration of content modules, or training of customers in their use. This is a really really important idea which has been lost in the recent trend toward commercialization. Now compare with Hotwired, which is offering up content, but none of the rest of it. No wonder they're losing money. And this battle is being fought (silently, unreported by Wired) today on many fronts, especially education.

Demo or Die. Wired 3.07 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.07/features/democoders.html "I want to write something that will change people's perception of reality. I want them to walk away from the computer dazed, unsure of their footing and eyesight. I want to write something that will reach out of the screen and grab them, make their heartbeats and breathing slow to almost a halt. I want to write something they are reluctant to leave, knowing that nothing they experience that day will be quite as real, as insightful, as good. I want to write demos." Remember?

Geek Page: Toward a Universal Library. Wired 3.08 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.08/departments/geek.page.html SGML simply marks the text as a headline or footnote. Exactly how these elements are displayed is left to the application. OK, it was a neat idea before the magazine publishers invaded the web. Now they want full control over everything. The battle rages on. XML, anyone?

Encyclopaedia Britannica Online? Wired 3.08 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.08/departments/electrosphere/brittanica.html Given that the Web itself is becoming the sum of the world's knowledge, isn't putting the Encyclopaedia Britannica online a spectacularly useless thing to do? Yes. But that's not stopping Alexis, a very agressive little program from acting as a front for the cyclo salesmen. Of course, not that Wired is in bed with these guys, I guess we won't be seeing an expose along similar lines... Too bad.

Gene Genie. Wired 3.08 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.08/features/molecular.html What if life itself, already susceptible to genetic engineering, could be used to solve problems? Also worth reading: DNA and the I Ching. Oh, for some more explorations of these ideas...

Agent of the Third Culture. Wired 3.08 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.08/features/brockman.html Solely digitizing texts is not what it's about. It's about creating intellectual community, where people come for the compelling subjects and then stay for each other. He's talking books, but the same could be applied to television or movies. Just so - critics of the old media are flogging a dead horse.

The Battle for the Soul of Corporate America. Wired 3.08 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.08/features/reengineering.html In Hammerism, authority doesn't flow from the top down or the bottom up. It travels from the experts in. TQM meets the geeks. OK, so corporate government isn't exactly democratic. But thinking about it is a step in the right direction.

"Anarcho-Emergentist-Republicans". Wired 3.09 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.09/departments/electrosphere/netpolitics.html When Wired informally e-mailed a cross section of participants in the budding digital culture, no clear-cut political identity emerged. Honesty was one of Wired's great virtues in those days.

Separating Equifax from Fiction. Wired 3.09 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.09/departments/electrosphere/equifax.html Americans haven't considered it because they simply don't know about it. Equifax is a national enigma. Having gone through a long running battle with Equifax, I read this story with great interest.

Idea Futures. Wired 3.09 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.09/departments/hanson.if.html Imagine a betting pool on disputed science questions, where the current odds are treated as the current intellectual consensus. Now this was a neat idea. Two follow-throughs: one, which I read in a magazine somewhere, where, instead of trading futures in ideas, they traded futures in celebrities. *sigh* The second, which I read in a science fiction book, where people traded futures in life extending etchnologies (and they invested with their bodies!).

Just Outta Beta??
How about pre-Alpha! Hm?

Hacking the Mother Code. Wired 3.09 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.09/features/hood.html You could perform these miracles if you had a radically new type of read/write head, one that would read from, and write to, not magnetic media, not optical disk, but the genetic storage medium, DNA. Meanwhile, in the same issue, Jon Katz was writing about O.J.

Interactive Entertainment. Wired 3.09 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.09/features/interactive.html The world of true interactive media will not be better than fiction, or inferior to fiction; it will be different from fiction in ways that we cannot imagine today. Inventive. The article is written as hypertext. And read the synopsis of interactive media at the end. Linear readers probably hated it.

Information Wants to Be Free - But This Is Ridiculous. Wired 3.10 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.10/departments/electrosphere/piracy.html It's not something to be proud of, but I am prepared to admit this to the world: I am a partner in software piracy. This was an interesting article primarily because it was one of Wired's few ventures outside the U.S.A. in 1995. Less appealing is the oft-repeated mantra about how illegal all this is. Is Wired beginning to cozy up to Microsoft...?

How Anarchy Works. Wired 3.10 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.10/departments/electrosphere/ietf.html "We reject: kings, presidents, and voting. We believe in: rough consensus and running code." All large-scale coding projects work this way - the ones that work, that is. This should inform our opinions about government.

Deep Technology. Wired 3.10 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.10/departments/rothenberg.if.html If deep ecology suggests that concern for interrelatedness leads to a reformation of the guiding ideas of our culture, then perhaps "deep technology" would emphasize how technology extends human insight, bringing us closer to nature, whose mysteries we will never fully understand. It is here that Jet Heller and I find our common ground, and also our deep division.

IPhone. Wired 3.10 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.10/features/iphone.html "If I had stock in the telephone company," the Journal quoted one user, "I would sell it." The fool. Couldn't he predict that the Telcos would buy out all the ISPs? I still have my doubts about internet telephony. It would be interesting to see a State of the Art Report.

In Wired 3.11, Reality Check does "The Future of Clothing". Wired 1.11 would have done an analysis of what intelligent clothing means in the club scene. Bzzzzt. Your spider has established a handshake with the woman in the techno-pink GrindBlaster. Exchange personal profiles?

By Analogy. Wired 3.11 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.11/departments/electrosphere/kelly.html Do you equate thinking with creativity? Are they the same in your book? Hofstader is one of those philosophers of cognition that gets it.

The Net as a Public Sphere?. Wired 3.11 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.11/departments/poster.if.html To understand how our notion of democracy will change - and I believe it will change radically - we need to understand how the Net differs from historical public spheres. Not a new way of doing the same thing, but a new thing. We need more new things.

The electronic world, said Marshall McLuhan, has margins everywhere and centers nowhere. Look for the colors that pop up unexpectedly on the peripheries. They're the future.

Paul Levinson, in Wired 3.11

Balkans Online. Wired 3.11 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.11/features/zamir.html What is very interesting for me is that this entire group of very enthusiastic computer scientists seems to have forgotten the meaning of the first two Ws in WWW. When Wired exzplores the world with a sympathetic eye, it can be very good.

Internet Indian Wars. Wired 3.12 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.12/departments/electrosphere/martin.html So the idea dawned: If they couldn't work with existing online communities, they could build one of their own. The net as a community of communities...? Its gotta be better than AO Hell.

The Russian (Media) Revolution. Wired 3.12 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.12/departments/electrosphere/meier.html "Internews is singular in its success," explains Wade Greene, "because it didn't go in there for a fast buck or any ideological reasons."

Wearable Computing Wired 3.12 http://www.wired.com/wired/3.12/departments/negroponte.html Activating your body means that everything you touch is potentially digital. Couldn't they have found someone with more vision to write this article?

1995 finds Wired in a state of flux. There's a lot more content, which is a good thing, because there's a lot more fluff. It was in 1995 we began to see celebrity-cult-worship enter Wired's pages (especially the Eno and the Villneuve issues). Also, we begin to see a lot more pandering to big business. The mag's strongest sections remain Electrosphere and Idees Fortes, but by the end of the year, with more numerous but scantier articles, you can see that the writing is on the wall for high content. 1995 also sees Wired turn - a lot - toward the sphere of American politics, at the cost of its international focus. Japan has all but disappeared from the pages.

And Wired exhibits all sorts of confusion over its hacker roots. Sure, sometimes the hackers are good. But more often, the hackers and the pirates are bad. Sure, sometimes the garage inventor is good. But more often, the large corporations are good.

Finally, Wired begins to talk more and more about old media. This creates a significant tension in its editorial stance. Is the internet a revolution, just like the other revolutions, where the medium changes but the same basic forces which drive humanity remain the same? That would mean that many of its founding principles are wrong. It would mean that the internet is not going to create a fundamentally new society, but rather, a faster version of the society we have today. Both points of view are well represented in the articles. But we can see the relentless shift from the role of visionary to the role of pundit. It's not a happy change.

[4. Reinventing McLuhan]