Weird, Feared, Revered?

By Lew Perelman

Sequence: Volume 30, Number 3

Release Date: May/June 1995

Wired is important not merely because of its sensational form. By design and
editorial strategy, Wired has made itself a congenial forum, or at least a
talisman, for the congregation of a new wave of politics. As Pepperdine
University fellow Joel Kotkin perceptively observed in a Washington Post
essay on Third Wave politics, the new constituency is forming around a
cluster of values and outlooks that is unwelcome in the arthritic Democratic
and Republican Parties, or even among the Perot set: optimism,
self-confidence, technophilia, libertarianism, and freebooting capitalism.

Contrary to what some critics charge, Wired does not accept such values
exclusively or uncritically. It regularly runs pieces that expose the "Dark
Side of the Force"--like an expose of young Japanese cybergame junkies who
embody everyone's worst nightmare of screen-glued nerdopaths. But Wired from
the outset has given continual vent and voice to the constellation of Third
Wave values and interests Kotkin has charted, and has always been
unapologetically anti-Luddite in its editorial bias.

Wired has nurtured this role as a kind of New World town hall, complete with
post office, flag pole, and alarm bell, by being among the first magazines
to extend its tendrils into cyberspace through online networks. From the
outset Wired has encouraged feedback between readers and writers via e-
mail. Cyberlinking is further nurtured by posting articles in an America
Online library after their print run to foster accessibility and utility of
the total Wired corpus.

As an author I've come to really appreciate this feature (though I confess
I've pondered its copyright implications). I not only received a couple of
dozen thoughtful and informative e-mail messages from readers after the
initial publication of my "School's Out" article in the premier issue of
Wired, but continue to get feedback about it two years later. It circulated
through the Net to Europe where a French student intern passed it to the
editor for whom he was working, who then decided to reprint the article in
his Parisian magazine.

So I've been quite happy with Wired both as writer and as reader. But it's
not perfect. There are things that bother me.

The name "Wired," for one. It suggests a cyberpopulation that's hypertense,
speed-sotted, frantic, uptight. True, perhaps, of many of cyberworld's past
and current denizens. But as cyberworld grows to become more ubiquitous,
commercial, mundane, and particularly more female it will continue to become
progressively Disneyfied into a kinder, gentler, homier place. MicroSoft's
new Windows shell called simply "Bob," not coincidentally a project directed
by two women (one of them, Bill Gates' wife), suggests the placidly domestic
look and feel of more things to come, a clear contrast to the testosterone-
spiked "Wired" both in motif and name.

And while I'm grateful to Wired for touting my "School's Out" thesis in its
premier issue, I've been bothered since then by a continual pro-academic
slant in much of its writing, mostly the usual insipid mush about the
"classroom of tomorrow." I was particularly irked by an insidiously
misguided commentary by George Lucas and Senator Bob Kerrey calling for
socialism in cyberspace in the name of "access" to educational opportunity.

Finally, while not so much a fault as an irony, I'm struck by how parochial
Wired really is. Pretending to be global, cosmopolitan, and previsionary,
Wired in truth is marinated in the diverse but solipsistic spectrum of Bay
Area microculture, from the hip to the chip. The au courant technical
content aside, Wired's psychedelic persona is rooted and still right at home
in 60s, Haight-Ashbury hippiedom. And its cast and claque are dominated by a
Northwestern, male, Eurocauscasian, politically correct, tree-hugging,
sprout-eating, haut-bourgeois techie-nerd, Thoreauvian elite. Beneath the
photonic gloss of Wired's virtual veneer lies the same old composted clique
of The Whole Earth Catalogue and CoEvolution Quarterly. The olympian local
BBS called The WELL forms the bridge between the two, with the aging
techno-hippie Stewart Brand still the perennial godfather.

But that's okay. Don't worry about it. IT'S ONLY A MAGAZINE.

Louis Perelman, is president of Kanbrain Institute and author of School's
Out: Hyperlearning, the New Technology, and the End of Education.

� 1995 Educom.

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