I’ve been going through Wired’s first issue on the iPad and it barely resembles the safe, neutered magazine that bears its name today. I didn’t buy the first issue, but I did read most every issue up until around 1997 or so. I had always been a fan of the cyberpunk genre and a huge technology enthusiast, so Wired was a magazine tailor-made for someone like me. It was a garish mix of absurd pretentiousness and genuine art. I liked it in spite of itself and enjoyed it without irony.
The thing that kept me coming back, besides wondering what heights of self-importance it would reach in the next issue, was its focus on people, ideas, and culture rather than a dry recitation of some beige box’s specs. It seemed plugged-in to the Silicon Valley scene, plus Interesting People wrote for it, so it felt like a magazine that was actually commenting on the digital revolution instead of obsessing over the actual devices that were making the revolution possible. It was the only technology mag to ask, “What does this all mean, anyway?”
It was the first place I’d seen the word “colophon.”
Going through the first issue made me somewhat sad, but not really from any sense of nostalgia. It was a painful reminder of how much the magazine has changed from a weird, dangerous, avant-garde magazine from the future to basically PC Magazine with a goatee and cargo shorts. This was a magazine whose cover, in addition to a rogues’ gallery of provocative thinkers and technologists, once featured the Apple logo encircled with a crown of thorns over the word “Pray” to mark the return of Steve Jobs to Apple. It was a fairly controversial cover to people who had never heard of the magazine, much less actually read it, but it was keeping with the magazine’s attitude.
Now, the magazine has a cover with a “Geek Dad.” Seriously. They might as well just fold it into Men’s Health or something.
I stopped reading Wired regularly in the late-’90s, as the web finally became interesting and informative in its own right (rather than people talking about how interesting and informative it was going to be). Combined with newsgroups and IRC, Wired instantly seemed old-fashioned and quaint. The digital world it heralded had finally arrived. The hackers, crackers, phreaks, and other Genuinely Smart People were moving things along at a furious clip, far faster than anything as mundane as a monthly magazine could hope to keep pace with.
Wired had its own website, Hotwired, but it never really caught fire with me. Once you’ve tasted digital ambrosia yourself in far more interesting places on the ‘net, you can’t really take a comparatively safe and mainstream website seriously–especially one tied to a supposedly forward-looking, underground magazine. The arrogant seriousness of the magazine didn’t really mesh well with the culture of the ‘net in those days, which was far too experimental, self-aware, and sarcastic for a magazine that took itself way too seriously.
Wired was supposed to be about the future, but it turned out the future was ASCII dicks and spam.
Wired was very much a product of its time. It’s deeply embedded in ’90s cyber-culture and the world it foresaw has largely come to pass. In a sane world, the magazine would have shutdown with dignity at the turn of the millennium; alas, anything that turns a profit, even it has long outlived its mission, shambles along like a shadow of its former self, forgetting who it was or what it was doing here in the first place. So it goes with Wired.
At any rate, revisiting the first issue was an interesting look into the future, courtesy of the past, when we knew what was going to happen before it actually did.
Except for Comments sections. No one saw that train wreck coming.