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Why I Hate Wired.


I have here in my hot little hands Wired for October 1996. This is the first Wired I've read in a while. I'm somewhat sad to see the magazine still sucks.

Let's start off with the first couple of pages. Open the cover. A Polo Jeans ad greets you with a ruggedly handsome, stubbly faced, long haired guy staring back. Note the American flag waving in the background.

Next., a two page spread from Sony featuring suitably androgonyous women in skin tight body suits prancing around a burnt out teletype terminal, a piece of equipment out of computing's ancient history. Oh yeah there's a dinky little picture of Sony's new computer in the upper left.

Following this, another two page spread courtesy of our friends at Kodak (dig it!). A woman is perched high upon some electric wires, flaming broom in hand, ominous green sky in the background. A cryptic caption regarding dreams being rude graces the bottom of the page. I think it's an ad for Ektachrome, but I'm not sure.

Compaq comes on board next, then NEC, then an ad for the Chrysler Cirrus automobile (real fucking wired that). All big splashy two page spreads of course.

Finally, we reach Wired's multi-page, pre-table of contents, pseudo-jarring image jam overlayed with a pithy quote from their lead article. In this case once you get past the psycothic typography the quote reads:

"Money goes where it is wanted and stays where it is well treated. This annoys government to no end. Technology has overwhelmed public policy. The nation-state is not about to disappear. But the old concept of sovereignty -- governmental acts that cannot be reviewed by any other authority -- is no longer valid."

Apparently such statements are not profound enough to stand on their own.

Wired has simply become Cosmopolitan for geek poseurs. To start, substitute Cosmo's supermodel cover with a supergeek cover. Claudia Schiffer meet Sonic the Hedgehog. Next trade Cosmo's endless fascination with sex, for Wired's relentless obsession with cryptography. While Wired might seem to be the more intelligent of the two due to article length, many of the microarticles in regular columns such as Electric Word make Cosmo seem downright contemplative.  Wired does have an advantage in that it doesn't contain any stinky perfume ads. In both cases the magazines reduce their audience to a simple principle. For Cosmo it's Sex and how to get it. For Wired it's Tech and how to get it.

Cosmo vs Wired

Cosmo

October 1996

Wired

October 1996

Front Cover

Supermodel Cindy Crawford

 Superbanker William Wriston

Back Cover

Arty Calvin Klein Ad

Arty Absolut Ad

Polo Jeans Ad Sighting

Page 4

Page 1

Cover, Key Issue

Sex

Money

General Edification

Beauty Bar: Lashes 101

Geek Page: Machine Translation

Political Angle

The Glam (Sexy Too!) World of Political Volunteers

The Cyber Rights Report Card

Commentary

On My Mind: Trophy Orgasms

Idees Fortes: Early Wireless Woes

Buyer's Guides

Fashion Now: The Latest Shoes and Boots

Movies

Books

Fetish

Street Cred

README: On the bookshelves of the digerati

Prognostication

Bedside Astrologer

Nicholas Negroponte

Don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-hip. In fact my violent reaction to the current state of Wired is principally due to the publication's early issues which held out such potential for the magazine. I had hoped it would evolve into a more populist Technology Review, digesting current advances,  repackaging them into a form that mere mortals could understand, and placing these leaps forward in wider social contexts. If that takes a a little bit of overreaching artiness to keep people coming back so be it, but stick to the original manifesto at least. Instead we got Tired/Wired and covers that gratuitously use the word "nigger" to tout the staff writers next big book.

The contrast is glaring when one takes a look at Wired 1.1. The centerpiece of the magazine is a fine article by Bruce Sterling outlining the uses and abuses of new technology by the United States military. There's also a nice bit of muckraking by Richard L. Fricker regarding misconduct by the Justice Department. Even Nicholas Negroponte is still relatively restrained, pontificating on the demise of HDTV something a vast majority of Americans might at least have an interest in. 

In the October 1996 issue (note the drop of the too nerdy release-dot-version numbering scheme) the closest we get to putting technology in context is the feeble Netizen. This issue's Netizen purports to dismantle Clinton on his personal rights record. Outside the context of Wired it's a decent piece, detailing how Clinton consistently tries to out-Republican the GOP on civil liberties issues. Within the pages of Wired it leaves something to be desired as the only technology related issues it mentions are the Clipper chip and the Communications Decency Act, and those under the assmuption that you already know all of the details surrounding both. More importantly, the article spends a significant amount of verbiage detailing how the Clinton administration is picking fights with the ACLU.

Well christ, I might as well be reading The Nation instead.

As for Negroponte, well he's sunk to plugging Pattie Maes' pet technology, agents, for developing electronic word of mouth. Of course he doesn't relate until the very end that Maes' "contributed" to the article.  Or that she's a colleague of his at M.I.T's Media Lab, which he founded. Or that in fact she's a founder of a company, Firefly, dedicated to taking financial advantage of this technology.

Hmmmmmm....

Wired's principal goal now is to attract the technocracy, people who think they're in the technocracy, and people who really want to be in the technocracy, for the express purpose of separating said people from their money. A thin, and rapidly decreasing, veneer of somewhat technology oriented articles and columns sucks the J. Random Luser in. If the sexy ads aren't enough to make him run out and buy what the sponsors are selling their's always Fetish, or Just Out of Beta, or Street Cred. Lord knows J. Random there needs Street Cred to tell him that Brian Green (of Beverly Hills 90210 fame) can't rap and that  Mr. Luser should really call Music Access (only 95 cents a minute) to find out what the latest Meat Beat Manifesto sounds like. If Mr. Luser is still not buying, a well placed feature article might fit the bill. You say he's not into smartcards and cybercash? Well he damn well should be after Wired's hard hitting interview with Walter Wriston, former CEO of Citibank. And if all else fails, you can get a mention in Nicholas Negroponte's end column. I'm sure Firefly's hit count jumped a bit this month. It's amazing how certain subjects are so interesting when one of your pals has a related startup.

Sigh, at least Cosmo isn't as pretentious.

The Crossjammer


Wanna rant on this piece be my guest. But be forewarned that all reader mail can and will most likely will be used in future episodes of J.Net.