if you find yourself curious how the digital future was displayed...
January 16, 2023 9:24 PM   Subscribe

Internet politics scholar Dave Karpf's updated compendium of (68) WIRED articles as zeitgeist capsules. The articles and the original list are available at #Wiredarchive. From 1999: "You’ve Got Smell!" Probably WIRED’s most famous wrong-call cover story profiles a company, Digiscent, that promises the “next Web revolution,” by digitally encoding smells. From 2001: “Death of the New Economy R.I.P." It took a while for WIRED to come to grips with the end of the dotcom boom.
posted by spamandkimchi (21 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
Out of 68 articles, there's 6 by women? I mean, I know it's WIRED but that deserves some analysis.

But I suppose that's what WIRED's version of the fyuoochur always was: white, male, entirely technocratic/technolibertarian. The world outside the continental US only gets a look-in as a case study of the weird - for all that 'Disneyland with the Death Penalty' is a rightful classic, WIRED consistently presents other futures as profoundly Other. There's a profound unreflectiveness to WIRED's digital boosterism: technology is unalloyed good, profit is progress, free speech means freedom from responsibility. It belongs in the same kind of cultural propaganda that characterised the Cold War - dissemination of American ideologies regardless of context. The ideological biases on display in these articles are profound - delirious celebration of anything new and shiny, nothing is real unless an engineer did it. WIRED and their fellow travellers can't critique their milieu, because then they might not get the new iPhone to review. A kind of unregulatory capture...
posted by prismatic7 at 10:36 PM on January 16 [8 favorites]


We knew in 1999. MAD magazine had a clearer view of the future. Playboy rivaled it for delusional fantasies. The breathless fawning over ludicrous gadgets - we knew how stupid it was. There was a cult of true believers, but level-headed people never bought into the techno-utopia of over priced PDAs.

It reminds me of crypto. There are people who will believe it's so profoundly intelligent that they can't understand it, it must be a work of genius. Then there are people who can't understand it and realize that's because it's bullshit, it's a scam.

You know what does a better job than WIRED? Sci-fi. Arthur C. Clarke. William Gibson. Star Trek. Black Mirror. I invite you to add to this list, I'm sure you can think of many. While we're making a list, consider where you would put WIRED.

In the shitcan.
posted by adept256 at 11:39 PM on January 16 [7 favorites]


From 1999: "You’ve Got Smell!" Probably WIRED’s most famous wrong-call cover story profiles a company, Digiscent, that promises the “next Web revolution,” by digitally encoding smells.

To be fair, much of the web stinks to high heaven nowadays.
posted by fairmettle at 12:02 AM on January 17 [4 favorites]


CACKLING. I definitely remember that Digiscent article from the print edition. I was a literal child and I still found it pretty implausible
posted by potrzebie at 12:22 AM on January 17


Kind of surprised that there's no reference to the 1997issue with the infamous Apple "Pray" cover. The article inside had a list of ways to fix the then-beleaguered company, and while some of the suggestions ("86. Organize a very large bake sale") are obvious jokes, there were so many earnest and wrong suggestions that Wired itself issued a mea culpa of sorts about a decade later.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:49 AM on January 17 [3 favorites]


(They haven't given up on smell.)
posted by box at 5:02 AM on January 17


Uh... were they also not a 'marketing partner' for... ':CueCat' ?
posted by rozcakj at 5:30 AM on January 17 [9 favorites]


I miss techno-optimism and considering the future with excitement for what technology might bring. The actual future was “crushing bullshit and horribleness” and “capitalism will kill us all, stop flirting with it”, but not knowing that meant you could feel good about things.

I think this is what crypto and NFT people feel about their stupid garbage when they get all excited about it.

I think even then The Long Boom looked vaguely ridiculous.
posted by Artw at 6:09 AM on January 17 [7 favorites]


One of my favorite bizarre promotional videos ever was for the "Scent Dome", a device which appears to be a copycat version of the Digiscent thing, maybe? Basically the same idea, a small device that would emit scents based on the webpage.

The video has absolute potato video compression, but for a while I couldn't find it online anywhere: here it is in all its low budget greenscreen hip hop glory, including a cameo appearance by...George Clinton of Parliament/Funkadelic?

Watch this, trust me.
posted by jeremias at 6:10 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]


He was on a recent episode of Tech Won't Save Us to talk about his Wired project, of which this is a part: Mark Zuckerberg is Burning Meta to the Ground.
posted by twelve cent archie at 7:10 AM on January 17 [5 favorites]


I miss techno-optimism and considering the future with excitement for what technology might bring.

Agreed. When it comes to making predictions in the '90s, I would've rather seen the ones from Wired come true than the ones from Adbusters and The Baffler.
posted by box at 7:18 AM on January 17 [9 favorites]


I miss techno-optimism and considering the future with excitement for what technology might bring.

I had a subscription to Wired some twenty-odd years ago because I also liked that techno-optimism. However, it got to be too much and I let it lapse. I followed their gaming content online for several years afterward, but otherwise haven't given much thought to the magazine since then.
posted by May Kasahara at 8:18 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


As a teen, I somehow got ahold of a copy of the Happy Mutant Handbook (1995), which was written by people who would (or did) work for Wired and BoingBoing. It was a sort of guide to the new hotness for people who weren't that into computers, or who were and who also wanted to be into psychedelics. That whole SubGenius vibe.

It all seemed delightful, but even at the time I remember people criticizing it as individualistic and capitalistic. One of the tips it had was to go hard on your own "personal brand," which was a new concept at the time, and to do things like use the SkyMall catalog to make personal logo wristwatches and fonts of your handwriting. Being young, I thought I would be darling at it. It would be fifteen years before maintaining a "personal brand" became mandatory for creatives, at which time I found I hated it and wanted to run away to sea every time I thought about it.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:18 AM on January 17 [5 favorites]


He was on a recent episode of Tech Won't Save Us to talk about his Wired project, of which this is a part: Mark Zuckerberg is Burning Meta to the Ground.


Oh boy, that episode is so good, thanks for linking to it and introducing me to the Tech Won't Save Us podcast in general!

This quote from that interview is pure gold:
So I did a Twitter thread about how VR is the rich, white kid of tech, that it will always be judged on its potential rather than its actual results.
posted by jeremias at 10:40 AM on January 17 [9 favorites]


Happy Mutant Handbook seems a little more at the MONDO 2000 end of things… techno optimistic arts and hacker culture rather than techno optimistic corporate culture.

For the most part it all ends up the same place.
posted by Artw at 11:16 AM on January 17 [3 favorites]


Coming from a tech background, there's a tendency to privilege substance over style. Lots of other magazines for that. But sometimes you want a breathless, engaged vision of possible futures. That's what I read Wired for back then. The problem with having that kind of futurism as one of your draws is that you have to fill pages, and sometimes the articles were just that, filler. But hey, a generation or two ago, Popular Mechanics had lots of wrong takes on the future too. So it will always be. Still fun to see.

Uh... were they also not a 'marketing partner' for... ':CueCat' ?

Hey now, pre-smartphones, they were the bomb for quick scanning. People kept track of their books and CDs with them, as well as DVDs, and Oh God I'm Old.

.. where was I? Oh right, time for my pills, then a quick nap.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 11:56 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


But sometimes you want a breathless, engaged vision of possible futures. That's what I read Wired for back then.

Same. At the time, I was a reader of Byte, Compute!, and vendor specific periodicals. Dry stuff. I don't recall the first time I saw WIRED available for purchase, but seeing it the second time (late 1993/early 1994?) in an Egghead Software store north of Pittsburgh, PA, indicated to me that this was an "authentic" magazine for techies of all sorts.

It was an exhilarating read and for a time I was a true-believer. After a few years, though, some of the product-oriented articles seemed like the writer was trying to create a funding sales pitch. The tech boom collapse in the early 2000's showed the truth. Still, even as recently as the mid-2010's I had re-subscribed for their digital content.

I used to have years worth of the magazine. About a decade ago I re-read, chuckled, then recycled, all of them except for the June 1996 edition with the fold-out "Mr. Bill Goes Hollywood!" cover featuring a photoshopped Bill Gates on a pool float. That one I kept.
posted by bacalao_y_betun at 12:53 PM on January 17 [3 favorites]


I definitely saw someone spruiking scent tech at a recent tech show. Of course, it's for VR rather than the web, because the future has moved.

Still a daft idea.
posted by pompomtom at 9:10 PM on January 17


My fondest memory of Wired was "Mother Earth, Mother Board", which was the best parts of Neal Stephenson without the annoying crap.
posted by tavella at 8:54 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]


I definitely remember that Digiscent article from the print edition. I was a literal child and I still found it pretty implausible

The web was really kind of weird in the 1990s, and things that were borderline unimaginable actually came to exist from it. Pets.com is used as some kind of high watermark of hysteria, but chewy.com exists and independently controlled a sizable part of the petfood market until it was purchased by one of the big brick and mortar stores.

Grocery delivery and independent taxis were hard to imagine then too - very common now.

To that same end, digital scent doesn't seem that implausible to me. Sure at the initial consumer level, it's still probably a ways away. But first theme parks and experiences- with digitized and marked 'live' displays with scent sprayers programmed for certain points? Not that weird. And considering the number of home programmers of Christmas lights, a periodic spray of multiple, selectable scents built into a replaceable cartridge doesn't even seem that technically difficult for home use.

I think the biggest downside of it is the same thing holding VR back - it would make a decent percent of the population literally sick, and nobody knows what percent that is and nobody wants to find out.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:37 AM on January 19 [1 favorite]


WIred is now trying to do some kind of... Twitter humour? ...and failing? It's a sad way to end up.
posted by Artw at 4:45 PM on January 22


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