Re: Wired UK : What nearly happened. (was: Re: I love you too,

Ian Andrew Bell (
Thu, 16 Apr 1998 19:01:39 -0700

At 12:15 AM 4/17/98 +0100, you wrote:

>NTK here.


I just read Danny's soliloquy on "Wired UK : What nearly happened" at the
above URL. I found his observations very interesting and while Wired
Bashing has become far too common a pastime (er.. TiRED?) for me to engage
in anymore I thought I'd pass comment.

Resisting the temptation to comment on his observations of Canadians (we
got independence in 1807 but it took us 60 years to get the nation up and
running.. you know hos you just get busy doing other things!) I'll take up
the fight and present some of my observations on the Cult of Louis.

The summer of 1994, on my return from New Mexico (where a meating of the
minds and link karma brought Rohit and myself together F2F) I was invited
to visit the humble auspices of Wired to talk to them about my joining the
Hotwired editorial staff. At that time Hotwired was a mailing list but as
with all things was promised to be much much bigger. Fresh out of
academia, I was more than happy to talk to anyone offering a paycheque,
especially in such an exotic clime as San Francisco.

I stayed with one of the Dharmas of Hotwired in his Zippified house, and he
picked me up at the airport one sweltering night, along with his girlfriend
who flogged CDs for Voyager. His was a much different world than I had

I remember the first WiREDes started crossing my path in 1993, with
articles from Paglia and Sterling, and the first utterances from
Negropronte. The magazine read like a "Harpers" that was DNA grafted with
a Calculator and MTV. It spoke to me, and it spoke to my secret desire to
make all of these wonderful concepts that I was encountering on the network
of networks accessible to normal humans.

To me, and to many others, WiRED magazine was a shepherd: marching the
digital world into the bright limelight of popular culture. This I thought
was a Good Thing, and it was with this naivete that I proceeded to build my
own view of what WiRED was. I thought that they were idealistic, as I was.
I thought that all of the peoples of the world could be digerati; that
everyone could have a voice. At the same time, though, I had seen how
technology could also become man's undoing; and I thought that they did too.

Anyway, I spent that summer going after places where I really wanted to
work. I emailed John Perry Barlow, who was and remains the only author
I've ever emailed and instigated long-term conversations with, and asked
him if the EFF needed an Intern. He said no, but unleashed a flurry of
Forwards, with me CC'd, that eventually led to the InBox of Louis Rossetto.
Imagine my delight when they looked at my stuff and offered to pay my
expenses to visit them?

As I was paraded in front of the staff of WiRED, I actually met people I
did like. Howard Rheingold was particularly pleasant, and helped me to
clear through the fog of my culture shock. We actually had a really
interesting, qualitative conversation about the future of the ISP business
in Canada where I profoundly babbled something having to do with the market
stature of the Canadian consumer in the global information bazaar.

I also met and had lunch with Chip, who was a really cool guy and who in
restrospect really did have that "just passing through" look about him.
Over the coming day or two, I spent a lot of time just talking to people
and the more I did, and the more conversations I eavesdropped on, the more
I realized that they were all newcomers to the digital frontier.

They talked about going to raves, smoking dope in the parking lot, and
more-or-less gossiped in the same kind of office-politicky way you see on
your average "Ally McBeale". This was not the highbrow bohemian stuff I'd
come to expect, and when I attempted to discuss with a few select
indidviduals things that I actually felt were compelling about the
information age I'd be confronted with the glaze of almost complete
catatonia, or a questioning look which inevitably resulted in my having to
explain what the technology widget of concern was or what it did.

The remarkable attitude that I saw in action was self love. These people
truly believed they ultimately would be running things, and that to work
with such genius as Louis was akin to sweeping the pathway to the Gates of
Heaven. The big rumour, and of course I was to be hush-hush about the
whole thing, was that Louis and Jane Metcalfe were sleeping together. If
it's so hush hush why were they telling some punk from Canada whom they'd
never see again? The reason to me became simple: They were all so swept
under by some combination of hero worship and the sense of being lost in
the tumult of digital culture that they clamoured for credibility by trying
to be purveyors of hot and new information.

They were each trying to outdo one another with new Bits -- a microcosm of
the popular media -- and I as the outsider (one of the Great Unwashed) was
to be impressed by their glitzy cutting-edgeness. Who cared if any of it
was even remotely accurate? Insodoing they became cheerleaders of the
digital revolution (I've pinned the same label on the Technorealists in a
rant which quoted Danny and left it uncredited at the URL below).


While I had concocted this hairbrained idea that they were somehow geeks
who'd "made good" and were speaking to the world, I realized that Wired
were actually the kind of people who arrive late to a party and instantly
attempt to take over the room with blithe conversation. The real shepherds
were and still are people like Phil Agre, who labour in obscurity to
present the real ideas objectively to provoke thought and discussion.

On the plane ride home, I vowed to try and make a go of things in my own
city. In Vancouver I was still among a precious few who'd even seen a copy
of Mozilla, and I thought there was greater opportunity to spread the Very
Canadian meme of moderation and considered progress. I am satisfied with
that choice.

Finally, I began to see that as the magazine progressed, the content and
the style came more to represent the co-opting of, rather than the
broadcasting of, the core concepts of equality and diversification that
I've felt that the Internet possesses the capability of embodying. The
ideals that these two concepts represent became tools to sell faster
modems, cooler stereos, and the Mercedes S-class. WiRED spent more time
congratulating the hallowed "digerati" on their wondrous acheivements than
they did working to foster considered debate on the fundamental effects of
these acheivements.

Sadly, that will never be their downfall.


Ian Andrew Bell
Product Manager, Enhanced IP Services (604) 482-5708
BC TEL Interactive
"Make it idiot proof and someone will make a better idiot."