17 Aug 2003
This week I read Gary Wolf’s Wired: A Romance, the story of the rise and fall of Wired magazine and its founder, Louis Rosetto. It’s a pretty fascinating look inside the frenetic environment of the magazine during its glory days, and its painful, slow denouement into management irrationality, insolvency, and insanity.
The best thing about it is that it provides an intimate, inside portrait of the people I’ve only known through mastheads and bylines. The products that they produced, especially Wired and Hotwired, were such important parts of my youth that the people in the book felt like beloved teachers, the rare ones that inspire curiosity instead of squelching it.
I read my first issue of Wired when I was fourteen. My dad would occasionally bring extra copies home from work, and I would eat them up. Keep in mind, this was the same month that Mosaic 1.0 was released, and a full year before Netscape 1.0. About that time I convinced my dad to buy me a modem, and I started exploring local bulletin boards, downloading shareware HyperCard stacks and pictures of women in bikinis.
When I was sixteen, I got a summer internship at a local 3D animation firm. The loft office was hip and urban, filled with young digital artists and SGI workstations. I was in heaven. Best, I found a shelf with the mother lode: every back-issue of Wired. I borrowed one at a time, and read my way through the future history of the world that was emerging before my eyes. That fall, I read Being Digital, edited versions of Nicholas Negroponte’s back-page column. I emailed him to tell him that the book changed my life, and he thanked me. I felt like I had received a blessing from the Pope.
Wolf singles out issue 4.12 as the magazine’s peak, and that certainly jibes with my feeling at the time. I clearly remember reading the cover story, Neal Stephenson’s sprawling travelogue Mother Earth Mother Board during a trigonometry lecture in the fall of my senior year.
There was the sense that the world that Stephenson described, and the world that the magazine represented, was vastly more important than the dry subjects that we had to study at the time. When our Government teacher gave us the assignment to create the plans and constitution for a new nation-state, I suggested that my group create an entirely virtual country, inspired by John Perry Barlow’s Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace in issue 4.06. We received a “C” for the project, because we failed to follow the requirement that a nation-state have actual territory. Teachers just don’t get it, dude.