10.0820 Wired & libraries

WILLARD MCCARTY (willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Mon, 31 Mar 1997 23:50:24 +0100 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 10, No. 820.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

[1] From: Tim Cavanaugh <tim@401kforum.com> (147)
Subject: Re: demise of Wired UK & British libraries

[2] From: Patricia Galloway <galloway@mdah.state.ms.us> (14)
Subject: Re: 10.0812 demise of Wired UK & British libraries

[3] From: "Niels P. Mayer" <mayer@netcom.com> (124)
Subject: NRR Re: BRITS: Wise to Wired and Death on Libraries

[4] From: Dave Nartonis <compub@shore.net> (23)
Subject: Re: 10.0812 demise of Wired UK & British libraries

[5] From: "Adams, Ernest" <eadams@ea.com> (70)
Subject: Demise of Wired in the UK

[6] From: Haradda@aol.com (5)
Subject: Re: 10.0812 demise of Wired UK & British libraries

[7] From: "Gary W. Shawver" <gshawver@chass.utoronto.ca> (16)
Subject: Re: 10.0812 demise of Wired UK & British libraries

Date: Thu, 27 Mar 1997 10:28:57 -0800
From: Tim Cavanaugh <tim@401kforum.com>
Subject: Re: demise of Wired UK & British libraries

Seems like kind of a stretch. There's nothing like failure to bring out
the carping critic that lurks in the heart of every carping critic, but
the failure of Wired UK has a pretty prosaic explanation.

Wired Ventures in general is in not-so-good shape financially. The
collapse of its plan for an IPO last year put the kibosh on many
projects, including money-losers like Wired UK. They've also trimmed
down some of their web operations, and I believe they've laid some
people off. And I can tell you from first-hand experience that getting
them to pay up for freelance contributions is like getting blood from a
carrot. Wired UK had a circulation of 30,000. Not too bad, but not
enough to attract the ads that the UK's home-grown internet mags have
snapped up. And not enough for a financially troubled company to keep
publishing. The folding of a magazine is always juicy news, but it can
hardly be called a rejection of American hegemony.

We should also keep in mind where Mr Rushkoff collects his paycheck. The
Guardian was Wired's partner in the UK edition, which was always
conceived as a joint venture. The people at the Guardian complained
publicly about a "clash of cultures" (or should I say "creative
differences") between the two organizations. Certainly, Wired's
know-nothing libertarianism couldn't have meshed with the Guardian's
leftish tone, but to me Rushkoff's rant sounds more like Who Shot John.

Here in San Francisco, Wired's fiscal woes has prompted an extended
visit from our old friend schadenfreude. My two cents is that their only
sin was in overplaying their hand as a "multimedia" company. They are a
magazine and publishing company with an extensive presence in electronic
publishing, and if their proposed share price had been fixed
accordingly, they could have gone public successfully. People just
weren't willing to pay a Microsoft price for a Field & Stream-sized
company (of course, Wired may not have had any choice but to seek a big
cash infusion; I don't know how deep in the hole they really are).

Despite its naive technozealotry, Wired is a great magazine, and its
presence on the web is one of the best. Sure, the way Rossetto and his
boys sell us on the net future is kind of pushy and snake-oilish, but
isn't that what dreaming big is all about? And their willingness to
sponsor dissenting, in fact almost cancerous, opinions like suck.com
seems to indicate they believe in letting a hundred schools contend.

As to your second point, it's certainly disturbing to see the growth of
libraries that hate books, but I don't see how the internet has
contributed to this phenomenon, other than providing nice cover for
budget cutters. The rush to the bottom is never pretty, so library heads
dress it up by claiming that rather than just throwing out books and
cutting staff, they're "updating" the library to make it a "high-powered
information centre." The goal is not to get new tech; it's to get new
tech that allows you to cut costs without having people complain.

You may have followed the war between Nicholson Baker and Ken Dowlin,
the shameless head of the San Fran library system. It was the first
major challenge to such shenanigans in the US. I'm happy to say that
Baker ended up being the last man standing, though not for the reasons
he wanted. When the library's multimillion dollar budget overruns came
to light, Downlin got hoisted on his own fiscal petard, and Mayor Willie
Brown (no paragon of civic responsibility himself) gave him the boot.

Sometimes there's God so quickly.


Date: Thu, 27 Mar 1997 12:10:36 -0500
From: Patricia Galloway <galloway@mdah.state.ms.us>
Subject: Re: 10.0812 demise of Wired UK & British libraries

With reference to Wired, I have to say that the comments reported here
focused very well for me the free-floating anxiety I always
experienced when looking at the magazine and reading its often
obviously solipsistic and anti-liberatory articles--it's almost as
though the editors thought they could create a commodified cyberpunk
environment just by suggesting that it was cool. But as far as the
threat to libraries is concerned, though that exists it should not be
equated with a threat to books. Even here in Mississippi (where all
the appliance stores, by the way, sell PCs, and there are 4 or 5 local
Internet Service Providers), huge bookstore chains with lots of great
stuff are opening daily--and you can't beat your way in the door: the
places are packed with ordinary people and kids sitting in the floor
and reading.
Pat Galloway
Mississippi Department of Archives and History

Date: Thu, 27 Mar 97 08:21:08 -0800
From: "Niels P. Mayer" <mayer@netcom.com>
Subject: NRR Re: BRITS: Wise to Wired and Death on Libraries (fwd)

Willard -- I think you hit the nail right through the saviour's hand on
this one. I've been thinking about Wired (US) in exactly the same way
ever since they sold out to the major US media conglomerates (e.g.
Time/Warner). (This happened around the time that most of my
friends&acquaintances left Wired for other careers, so it's not like
i'm dissing my friends.) Fortunately, you were able to sum up the
problems with Wired in a much more poingnant fashion than I. I see
Wired as being the computer-wanker's version of Playboy magazine,
wowing us with the digerati's version of the silicone breast implant,
and making us long for the day when we could have the cohones and cash
to have a bit of digital perfection implanted in our own bodies, or at
least humming nearby as we plug-in to download the latest groupthink.
As if we should denigrate/ignore the results of millions of years of
evolution and heap praises on the shoddy engineering that got squeezed
in between cappucino's and marketing meetings at Intel and Microsoft.

Actually, the comparison to Playboy is a bit unfair, since, beyond the
airbrushing, implants and exploits, that magazine has at least had some
groundgreaking reportage on issues of freedom/politics/repression in
our society. Wired, meanwhile has this sick attitude that the benefits
of the crypto-libertarian utopia should be bestowed only upon those
Wired enough to be on the invite-list for all the cool corporate/media
parties at big national computer conferences... everyone else can rot.

That's why I'd rather be "Tired" than "Wired". It's good toilet
reading, or airplane-reading for when I'm too braindead from business
travel to read something with real content. It would be wonderful if
there was a "humanist" centered version of Wired -- an "Utne Reader"
for the digitally inclined.

I personally get a lot more out of reading the Communications of the
ACM, ACM SIGCHI, ACM SIGGRAPH, or IEEE Computer or even Byte. This is
where the real futurism lies. At least those magazines/journals have
the substance and rigor to *TEACH* the populace about the cutting edge,
rather than just namedropping and constantly reminding us about how
lowly and falling-behind we are compared to the inner-circle of
really-cool/hip people that comprise Wired and it's wankerati

Date: Thu, 27 Mar 1997 08:29:15 -0500
From: Dave Nartonis <compub@shore.net>
Subject: Re: 10.0812 demise of Wired UK & British libraries

My own research is in late 18th and early 19th c. New England. Thus I
spend many happy hours in libraries full of books. But I do not feel the
horror about the coming of the computer age that some do. For example, a
young friend of mine recently asked for help in researching the topic of
dolphins. We got into the new Library of Congress homepage, searched on
dolphins, found 341 titles, sorted the list by date, and had it sent to us
by email. In a minute or two, all the catalog information was on our
screen. If only I'd had resources like this when I was in school!

This week the New York Times put all its book reviews back to 1980 on its
homepage. This isn't hype. Its actually happening. At one fringe we have
the pundits who want to make a dollar from all this change. On another
fringe we have the status quo seekers who want to stop the world and get
off. Why should these groups disturb us if we are daily getting more and
more access to the research materials we use to do our work?

Will the future bring changes? Yes. Books virtually put an end to the
role of story-tellers in society. Computers may obsolete books. Remember
the wonderful story-teller that helped Alex Haley find his African roots?
Why is no one calling for the end of books so that we can restore this lost
resource? :-) I think it is because the real opposition is not to
computers but only to change.

Dave Nartonis
Boston USA

Date: Wed, 26 Mar 1997 18:39:11 -0800
From: "Adams, Ernest" <eadams@ea.com>
Subject: Demise of Wired in the UK

Dear Dr. McCarty,

I'm not on the Humanist mailing list, but my wife forwarded your message
about Wired-UK to me. I am a video game developer living in Silicon

I was disturbed to learn that many of the staff of Wired were planning
to involve themselves in other business activities. Objective journalism
requires a staff dedicated single-mindedly TO journalism.

I myself have always regarded Wired as a magazine which observed, or
rather celebrated, advancing technology and the cultural changes which
accompany it. Its editorial slant favored open access to this technology
and opposed governmental efforts to regulate it, or to use it to control
its citizens. On the whole I applaud this position. However, I do not
feel that Wired turns a sufficiently critical eye on the potential
negative aspects of such high-speed technological advancement.

People speak of the "democratizing power," of the Internet -- to enable
people to publish their work widely and inexpensively. This is well and
good. I have no doubt that when the printing press was invented there
were some who complained that now any idiot could print a book
regardless of the merits of his material, and as a result the quality of
books as a whole would go down. They were of course right; vast numbers
of completely worthless books, such as those on astrology, are now
printed every day, and they would never be published were it necessary
for monks to copy them out by hand. On the other hand I believe we now
live in a golden age of literacy, when genuinely useful books on an
infinity of topics are now available to the masses at a price that would
have amazed the mediaeval scholar. Despite the astrology books, no one
would choose to go back to a time without the printing press. I believe
the same argument could be made about the Internet.

However, I also feel that in fact this democratizing power will be bad
for democracy itself. American attitudes towards politicians (the word
is now a curse in America), civil servants, and government service
generally, are at an all-time low. Scandal-mongering is intense. Our
newspapers have devolved into institutions whose main role with regard
to politics appears to be seeking out reasons for criticizing those in
public service. The notion that it is right and proper for good people
to devote themselves to public service (an idea which reached its zenith
with the Kennedy family) has almost been lost.

The Internet only worsens this problem. Any idiot can say anything, and
there is no mechanism to filter the opinions of the lunatic fringe out
from more reasoned discourse. Prior to the Internet it was possible to
recognize the opinions of the lunatic fringe because they only appeared
on cheaply-printed handbills, never in the newspaper. That distinction
is now lost. Worse yet, the lunatic fringe, in my experience, have more
time to devote to disseminating their nonsense than do careful thinkers;
with the result that the newsgroups are filled with hate-mongers and
conspiracy theorists who crowd out other rational debate, and prey upon
the ignorant and the credulous. At a time when critical thinking is more
essential than ever, the world abounds in "psychics," "angels," "faith
healing," and the like.

If the Internet is to be the great new medium for political discourse
(and many people seem to think that it will be), then political
discourse will be the worse for it.

Another issue might be the widening gap between those who are familiar
with high technology and those who are not -- usually the urban poor.
Such people, unused to working with computers, will soon be fit only for
the most menial of service jobs. Even being a clerk at a McDonalds now
requires familiarity with a computerized order-entry system.

These are examples of the kinds of issues that I believe Wired fails to
address. Their infatuation with technological advancement blinds them to
its serious consequences. God knows I'm not a Luddite, but I believe
these are issues which require our careful attention.

I rather doubt that Wired had any cultural agenda with respect to
Britain per se -- its editors more likely had the commonplace American
belief that every place was like America, and the British audience would
have identical interests and attitudes to those of its American
audience. Suggesting that its editors were on a secret mission to
infiltrate American techno-culture into Britain is to give them too much
credit. I disagree that Wired was guilty of cultural imperialism, just
the normal provincialism which is ubiquitous in the American media.

Yours for what it's worth,

Ernest W. Adams

Date: Wed, 26 Mar 1997 20:22:48 -0500 (EST)
From: Haradda@aol.com
Subject: Re: 10.0812 demise of Wired UK & British libraries

Wired US has not made a profit since it began. They have had losses of close
to a billion dollars They floated a bond issue of a half a billion last
summer to keep going. I find it interesting although I find myself censoring
it from time to time when I bring it home for my children to read. My
children love it and read it until it comes apart.
Are you aware of the electronic version called Hot Wired?

Date: Wed, 26 Mar 1997 19:10:10 +0000
From: "Gary W. Shawver" <gshawver@chass.utoronto.ca>
Subject: Re: 10.0812 demise of Wired UK & British libraries

Post-hoc reasoning, ad hominem attacks and anecdotal evidence aside,
Rushkoff has brilliantly stated what was already blindingly obvious to
anyone who hase read Wired, or visited HotWired--the folks at Wired have
a point of view. Perhaps it is a little, just a little, more evident
than that of the editorial staff at The Guardian. Wired can get mighty
preachy, though I sometimes find myself agreeing with them. Over the
past year HotWired has espoused freedom of expression (no CDA), the
right to privacy (encryption for the masses), and accessability (open
standards). Can we as HUMANISTS find any of this all that disturbing?
Can Ruskoff?

Gary W. Shawver