[I wrote this in June when the Wired premiere issue was distributed as an iPad edition, but didn’t get around to finishing it promptly because (as I mention below) I had to wait for-ev-er for the issue to download, and other things came up in the interim. I noticed the saved draft today and decided to resurrect it.]
I was a geeky kid. I started playing with our Tandy 1000 computer from RadioShack when I was maybe five years old. I played “Demon Attack,” learned to navigate MS-DOS directories, and even programmed a little in BASIC.
I soon graduated to playing trivia games on CompuServe with people all over the world, and eventually became RDMC05B on Prodigy — an ID I still remember after all these years because it was so important to me during my middle and early high school years. The sound of the modem dialing and connecting was a sound of promise and excitement for me then, knowing I would soon be navigating the early Internet and finding new ways to learn and meet people virtually. I even started a young writers’ group and newsletter based on my early online networking.
I was also a very young reader of Wired magazine. Wired’s early years were incredibly inspiring to me. I remember wondering about this guy “Marshall McLuhan,” the magazine’s “patron saint,” as the staff listing once declared (but no longer does). I remember thinking about the Internet and what it was going to mean for me to be a “netizen,” because it sure seemed like this Net thing was going to take off. The design of the magazine was so different from anything I’d ever seen. As a whole, Wired is probably largely to blame for my presence here on this blog right now, my love of magazines, and, well, many of my career choices.
After that early fascination, I’ve almost always had a Wired subscription. The magazine started in 1993, and it was probably about that time that I started managing my own magazine subscriptions.
I’ve also watched as the magazine has moved away from its heavier considerations of Internet philosophy, responsibility, and potential, and has become rather more fluffy. I distinctly remember telling my mom when I was a kid that an issue of Wired took me longer to read than some books. That’s definitely not the case today, and it’s not just my reading skills that have changed. Though the magazine still often features some really interesting stories, they are generally stories that simply have connections to technology, and are less about the greater social significance of technology itself.
Not too long ago, Wired re-created its first issue as a downloadable edition within its iPad app. (Ironically, as its 722 megabytes downloaded, they slowed down my rural net access so that I felt like I was on that 300-baud modem of the 1980s.) The idea of bringing back premiere editions is fascinating, and I can see a potential scholarly study here someday! (Here’s one of my favorite scholarly magazine studies, which happens to be about Wired.) In the meantime, though, it’s been disheartening to look back at Wired’s early days. The contrast between what it was and what it is now is stark.
I wish today we had more intellectually intriguing, deeply thought out, provocative and accessible writing about technology, without an overly strong emphasis on either business considerations or the technical details. I wonder what and who will inspire young people today to be thoughtful netizens, not just consumers of media.