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Boom era WIRED magazines, part 3

Here’s another look at the old WIRED magazines salvaged from my flooded basement.  This time, the incredibly optimistic July 1997:

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Oh, that cover declaring a 25 year boom is painful!  We have seen some huge improvements but also some astounding setbacks in the 17 years since this was published.  Let’s take a look at the tech world of 1997 and what we hoped and expected the near future to hold.

  • pg 12-13: a Macintosh PowerBook 3400c ad that has the headline “What can you do with 240 MHz?” and brags about the built-in 33.6 Kbps modem.  For reference, the laptop I’m using now has a 2.20 GHz processor.
  • pg 14-15: an ad for the Saturn SC2 coupe. Heavy sigh. I owned a 1997 Saturn SL1 and I loved it. My current car is a 2004 Saturn Vue. The brand may not have lasted long, but they really were great cars for the price.
  • pg 36: in the Rants & Raves section, a letter from a 15 year old girl that includes lines like, “What we don’t want is more nonsense that girls games must include pink, lace, makeup, shopping, and boys,” and “The makers of girl games need to wake up and realize that not everyone without a penis must wear makeup and chase blond surfers named Ken.” Ah Janie, you’re in your 30s now and things haven’t changed nearly enough, have they?
  • pg 40: a GeoCities ad. Cue the spinning logo, under construction gif, and blink tag!
  • pg 42: a small blurb about DVDs, listed as the “next Big Thing in consumer electronics”, and the annoying decision to make them regionally encoded.
  • pg 47: Wow. A tiny blurb about Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who were only known for creating an edgy animated Christmas card for a Fox Broadcasting exec at the time. South Park debuted the month after this.
  • pg 48: a couple paragraphs about wearable computers, in this case, the possibility to have a subdermal implant that can be read through the skin and can monitor a chronic condition like diabetes.
  • pg 80: the Reality Check column, which asks a panel of experts their opinions on tech development, takes on the future of radio. One of them thought that digital audio broadcasting was unlikely to ever catch on, and two thought Internet radio wouldn’t eclipse terrestrial radio.  A quote: “Besides, radios are cheap; computers aren’t. And computers involve a learning curve; radios don’t.”  How quaint.
  • pg 116+: the cover article. Oh my. It’s too big to tackle here.  The authors didn’t anticipate many things, including: large terrorist attacks that provoked unending military responses, increasing and institutionalized economic inequality, how difficult some medical questions really are (they forecast that a gene therapy for cancer would be found around 2012), the rise of nationalism and fundamentalism, any negative effects of globalization, and pushback to (and evil corporate use of) genetic modification of livestock and crops. By now, they thought we would be voting online from home in presidential elections — no hackers or Bush v. Gore in their world. They thought we would have a “superpower nonaggression treaty” between the US, China, Europe and Russia, and instead we have more conflict with Russia than since the Cold War ended. They thought world GDP growth would top 6%; it’s actually projected to be 3.7% this year. They thought the Middle East would be out of oil and we’d have third stage hybrids that ran on pure hydrogen; instead, the US is now the world’s top oil producer and electric cars are still rare. They thought that organ donations from animals would be common, birth defects would be completely eliminated, and that education would be radically reformed from kindergarten through university. Oh, and human life expectancy should reach 120 next year. While they were a little closer on some of their computer industry predictions, they really overestimated humankind. To be fair, on page 129 they have a list of “Ten Scenario Spoilers” that includes a couple that came close. #3: Russia devolves into a kleptocracy run by a mafia or retreats into quasicommunist nationalism that threatens Europe. #10: A social and cultural backlash stops progress dead in its tracks. Human beings need to choose to move forward. They just may not… (I’ll suggest that human beings don’t agree on what “forward” means.)
  • pg 153: a review of Edward Tufte’s Visual Explanations. This is still such an important read. Then again, I speak as someone who believes that data visualization and information hierarchy should be key literacy units taught in high schools.
  • pg 157: in the Just Outta Beta column, a paragraph about Blizzard’s new game Starcraft
  • pg 164: an ad for HotBot (WIRED’s search engine) declaring that “AltaVista is History.”  Google started as a college project the year after this magazine was published.
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Posted by on October 18, 2014 in Side Topics

 

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Boom-era WIRED magazines, part 2

My anthropological thoughts are centered around medical anthro this week (inspired by thought-provoking pieces like Race and the immuno-logics of Ebola response in West Africa from Somatosphere), so you’ll just get another retrofuturist look at the old WIRED magazines I saved from my basement flood.  This time, June 1997:

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  •  pg 2: a Philips Magnavox ad – “From Hollywood to Main Street, it’s being heralded as the beginning of a home entertainment revolution. It’s called DVD Video.”
  • pg 22: a Digital Equipment Corporation ad featuring Jeff Bezos (looking chubby and with quite a bit of hair), the CEO and founder of Amazon.com, “the world’s largest, most prosperous on-line bookstore.”
  • pg 42: a blurb mentioning that two nominations for the Pulitzer Prize were disqualified for being digital, as the prize was limited to print sources only. The rules wouldn’t change completely for another eleven years after this issue.
  • pg 65: an ad for an Olympus digital camera that shoots in 640×480 resolution, holds up to 80 standard photos (lower resolution), and costs a mere $599.
  • pg 67: a short profile of Bruce Schneier and his Blowfish cryptography algorithm. 17 years later, his blog Schneier on Security remains a must-read.
  • pg 109-110: a button-pushing opinion piece by Nathan Myhrvold, CTO of Microsoft at the time, about cloning, with some controversial thoughts like, “If humans have a right to reproduce, what right does society have to limit the means?”, “Fear of clones is just another form of racism”, and “The most upsetting possibility in human cloning isn’t superwarriors or dictators. It’s that rich people with big egos will clone themselves. … So what?”
  • pg 114 and beyond: 101 Ways to Save Apple. How amusing to read this while some are in iPhone 6 delirium, especially when the very first item in the list is, “Admit it. You’re out of the hardware game.” Some of the tips were actually on point, suggesting that Apple exploit their talents at UI, get a better ad agency, and focus on better case design. Maybe they took the challenge of #31 to heart, though they can’t meet the suggested price point, “Build a PDA for less than $250 that actually does something: a) cellular email, b) 56-channel TV, c) Internet phone.”
  • pg 124-129: preview of big summer f/x movies: Spawn, Titanic, Batman & Robin, Men in Black, and Anaconda.
  • pg 138 and beyond: a couple of related articles about the increasing spread of the Internet in China (and concern about what would happen in Hong Kong after it reverted to Chinese control that month). I worked on an attempted ISP expansion into China a few years after this and many of the issues in the article — government control, bureaucracy, piracy — were stumbling blocks for us, and others who followed.
  • pg 153: a short review of 3 speech-to-text programs. The author’s favorite retailed between $99-$1695 (based on vocabulary size).
  • pg 158: on the music review page, a review of Lamb’s debut album, which featured what remains one of my favorite songs:
 
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Posted by on September 23, 2014 in Side Topics

 

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Looking back on boom-era WIRED magazines, part 1

In the aftermath of our basement flood last month, we cleaned out all of the storage boxes we rarely opened in six years of living in this house.  Some of my boxes had been unopened much longer and I was surprised to find a pile of WIRED magazines from 1996-1999, still in excellent condition. One with a scratch and sniff cover is still in the mailing plastic.

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Since I’ve got a bit of a cold today, I thought it might be interesting to open one like a time capsule and see what I found.*  I started with the issue from November 1996 with Burning Man on the cover.  At the time this issue came out, I was working for an Internet start-up and freelancing as a website manager/editor; WIRED was crucial to me for stay current. It helped me decide what skills to pick up next and what jargon to spout. Here’s some of what I found inside today:

  • before the Table of Contents: four glossy, poster-like pages promoting a story about Suck with the words, “The Web Dream is what smart kids across America are dreaming. Here’s a cheap and easy-to-use medium that lets anyone seize the attention of the planet… It’ll hardly cost a dime. and you might get rich. Fuck waiting in line for your turn. Piss in the milk of the oligarchy. Take the money… then run like hell.”  How I loved Suck. It was dead less than five years after this issue. But the text nails the attitude of those of us who were hustling to go from hopeless slackers to new media luminaries, and it’s still the attitude of those who seek fame in the latest digital media, be it YouTube or Twitter or Vine and beyond.
  • pg 42: a blurb about companies fighting to take control of the computer desktop, with push technology like PointCast featured. It sounded cool then, but nobody really wanted it.  Now? Windows 8 has an interface that pulls in stories and content from sites and categories you choose. With apps, widgets, and notification settings, we can get a lot of of content pushed to our mobile devices. I think Facebook has become the information desktop for a wide swath of users, aggregating content that is interesting to them or their friends.
  • pg 45: I’ve been glossing over all the outdated PC ads, but this Toshiba Infinia ad proudly announces that their Pentium PC has “a huge 3.0GB hard drive”.
  • pg 46: a blurb about AOL being sued by the NBA for posting scores of basketball games in progress. The argument was that the scores were intellectual property that television stations paid large amounts of money to license, while AOL claimed that reporting the scores was journalism.  It may seem natural to ask or type a few keywords to check scores now, but that was one of many things that had to be fought out.
  • pg 47: a blurb about WebTV. Putting web content on the TV screen is still a relevant consideration — I use my Chromecast every few days — but creating an interface and controls for the web on TV never really worked.  Using the keyboard at some hotels that still offer LodgeNet is a painful reminder of the WebTV furor.
  • pg. 48: analysis of the hardware of the brand-new Nintendo 64.
  • pg. 64: in the Fetish column (gear for early adopters, basically), a glowing promotion for the Motorola StarTac cellular phone, retailing for $1000-2000.
  • pg 68: an ad for a webcam that could broadcast in color.
  • pgs 119-120: an ad for the first Resident Evil game
  • pg 160: a short essay about web memorial sites, guessing how these will become more common in the future. Ironically, the one memorial site mentioned in the piece is currently offline.
  • pg 195: the cover article by Bruce Sterling about Burning Man, which was then in its 11th year.  I’ve just seen a documentary about Burning Man and read about this year’s celebration, and it’s incredible to compare how tiny it was in 1996.
  • pg 218: in a blurb about the new DirecPC service, which offered “up to a sizzling 400 Kbps”, the writer is ecstatic about downloading a 1.5 Mb file in under a minute. Just for comparison, I’m getting 18.71 Mbps over my home WiFi right now. If I did the math correctly, that’s almost 47 times as fast as the top speed that made him giddy.

Overall, sure, it was dated, but not too bad. It was far more upbeat about how the Internet would change politics and the economic future than how things really turned out, but it was an optimistic time. Thank goodness that storage sizes and prices and Internet connectivity improved at the rate they did.

* Yep, this is a filler post, and I’ll probably do a few more for days when I’m too busy or sick.  Not the most informative or thought-provoking, but maybe some nostalgia or giggles and a last life for the magazines before they hit the recycling bin.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2014 in Side Topics

 

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