Saturday, February 9, 2008

Wired: Oh How The Mighty Have Fallen

About 13/14 years ago I wrote a couple short pieces for Wired. At the time I was thrilled to bits.

In those days, many of the people on the cover of Wired were cyberpunk novelists. Today, that's so atypical of the magazine that finding images to support the assertion is a project in and of itself. They're out there on the Web, but they're hard to find. Google only keeps alive information that our culture is actively remembering on a day-to-day basis.

Possibly my favorite piece in Wired ever was a short story by Neal Stephenson called Hack The Spew.

When was the last time you saw a short story dominate the cover of a magazine?

Wired was better than people today remember it being.

Today, in the current issue of Wired - which features a TV comedian with no technological background at all on its cover - there's a short opinion piece called Unmasked By Facebook which paraphrases Hack The Spew. The paraphrase is unwitting, and nearly witless as well.

I miss the old Wired. I miss the old sci-fi as well. In general it seems to me that the community which once spent its money and time on great sci-fi novels now spends its money and time building incredible sci-fi widgets. At a recent combined gathering of several geek get-togethers in Los Angeles - Geek Dinner and Dorkbot at Machine Project - I met people who were building all kinds of cool, weird shit. (And I was only there for the first hour!) One of the people I met told me about a guy he knew who had built a bona fide laser gun. It used UV light in some manner, so the actual laser beam was invisible to the human eye, but it could be used to melt holes in concrete walls near-instantaneously from significant distances. He said that if you think about it, a laser is ultimately pretty steampunk technology.

I had no idea what he meant by that observation, but it sounded really cool. I think, if I had understood what he was talking about, I would have really gained something from the observation - something not just technological, but cultural as well. But I really don't know what he meant. A good sci-fi writer could have given me the perspective to understand it, but it seems as if the good sci-fi writers have all retired or gotten boring. So I'm at a loss as to what to do with this information. However, I can tell you for a fact that the fascist elements in this country seizing power illegally and planning for martial law are going to find a handmade invisible laser up their ass if they're ever seizing power illegally from me.

Obviously this kind of confrontational attitude could have some negative pratical repercussions. On the other hand, if you think about it, and if you actually read the links, you might realize, there's fertile ground there for some incredible sci-fi. That's the real reason I miss the old Wired. Not just nostalgia - I think that the overall decline in cyberpunk means a loss for everyone.

It's actually really valuable for a society to be able to ask questions like that - "What if Blackwater really starts imposing martial law - and what if geeks shoot back with handmade UV lasers?" - just to see what the answers might be. In today's political climate, especially just a year or two ago, I think people were afraid to even voice these thoughts in public - which is in itself kind of scary - but it's a really valuable thing to do, because ultimately, science fiction is how a culture thinks ahead. People who don't think ahead don't make good decisions. The same is probably true for societies. If you look at how the Republicans consistently denied global warming, and the crazy weather we're having these days, especially the storms killing people and demolishing cities all over the South, you might start to think, maybe it's a good thing when societies think ahead.