Even when Wired or The New York Times run articles that are silly or dull, they paint a portrait of a culture. With regards the the New York Times, that culture is one that I am, unfortunately, deeply immersed in. As such, the cultural aspects of the New York Times are ones that generally escape my notice or–when they do come to my attention–rather disturb me.
But Wired is totally different! Sure, all of these people are demographically rather similar to me. If I’d messed around a bit more with Java when I was fourteen and majored in CS in college, then I’d most assuredly be smack in the middle of the Wired readership. But, as it is, my teens and twenties have been a process of learning steadily less about (and become steadily less excited by) technology, and, as such, I’m not very acculturated to the numerous weird quirks of tech people.
For instance, it’s really fun to see how the clash between the pessimistic and anarchic strains that underlie alot of footsoldier- and amateur-level tech communities and the corporatist/libertarian/techno-utopian thinking that girders alot of the formal structures of the technological world (even crunchy and feel-good organizations in the tech world are, after all, primarily funded by the billionaire owners of Fortune 500 companies).
One consequence is that Wired is often very anti-establishment in a very general sort of way. They ran a scathing (and break-through) article on the NSA’s new Utah data center and a very respectful article of the hacker collective Anonymous. But when they get a specific establishment figure or corporation in their sights, they’re often almost worshipful. For instance, in the most recent issue, they ran a story about Intel’s recent attempt to design a set of chips for mobile phones. Now, this could’ve been a great article! Intel is one of the big three monopolies in the “old” computing world (Cisco and Microsoft are the other). But its’ monopoly status did not stop it (or Microsoft) from falling prey to decreasing relevance and earnings growth. There’s an interesting article here about the way that the tech world has economies of scale that naturally lead to monopolies, but that these monopolies are also naturally unseated by technological growth (see also, IBM’s monopoly on PCs). In an era in which we’re seeing the rise of new online monopolies (Facebook, Google, and, to a far lesser extent, Amazon), this could be an interesting way of looking at how the corporate structure of the tech world might shift.
But instead the article focuses on the swashbuckling chief of Intel’s new mobile phone division (tech chiefs are always swashbuckling and devil-may-care and gaudily dressed and blah blah blah). The article’s just a puff piece for this guy and this company. And that’s true of _so_ many Wired articles. Whenever they run an article about a company (e.g. their articles on Uber, Square, and Quora), they inevitably lavish praise on both the founders and on the company’s potential to leverage societal change.
Now, most of these companies bore me, but I do really enjoy these articles! Because, at least to some extent, this is how the tech world sees itself. They really do see themselves as a series of hero-creators (Prometheuses) who rise out of the muck to drown old obsolete old-world companies or first-generation startups using the sheer volume of their regurgitated brilliance. And Wired reveals in the details of these worlds. There’s always the description of the campus amenities (like the huge slide in Epic studios). There’s always the origin story (like the retired founder of Atari hiring, as the navigator for his sailing boat, an engineer who created radio systems for military contractors and then brainstorming with that navigator, during a two week sail-race to Hawaii, and ending up with the plan for a new company). There’s always the money that is just waiting to be picked up off the floor (like how Uber and AirBnB will revolutionize our economy by teaching us how to sell excess downtime and spare capacity using the disintermediation services of the internet). It’s all so fun and so colorful and so brilliant. Wired is a crazy alternate world. It’s like a cyberpunk novel that’s been stripped of all its shades of grey. Even the magazine itself is bright and colorful and vividly interactive (at least on my iPad).
It’s always a fun time.