10.0812 demise of Wired UK & British libraries

WILLARD MCCARTY (willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Wed, 26 Mar 1997 23:19:41 +0000 (GMT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 10, No. 812.
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: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk> (70)
Subject: demise of Wired U.K., closing of British libraries

Two interlinked news items.

Residents of N. America may not be aware that the British version of the
high-tech monthly, <cite>Wired</cite>, has been discontinued. In the
Guardian for 12/2/97, Douglas Rushkoff, "Beware faulty wiring", goes into
the failure of Wired in the U.K., noting that its death "marks more than the
rejection of a rightwing libertarian agenda. It also shows... that British
readers would not be intimidated."

"A propaganda effort that has proved quite effective on both the business
and the hi-tech communities of the US, Wired's Ventures' strategy of
coercion through a combination of hype and intimidation just didn't work on
Britain's digital enthusiasts, who were already poised to resist what they
see as rampant cultural imperialism from American media conglomerates."

Rushkoff argues that the rejection of Wired "is a rejection of a brand of
media more coercive than it is informative.... 'Wired used buzzwords and
catchphrases that only insiders would understand,' one Londoner explained.
'The magazine made it clear that there are insiders and outsiders.' Or, as a
young British hacker e-mailed me on hearing the news, 'They tried to tell us
how to think, so we told them to f--- off.'

"While the British Internet community might be a more sceptical, even
paranoid audience than America's. their perceptions of the agendas
underlying Wired's invasion of UK media space are not entirely inaccurate.
The increasingly common opinion in the magazine's hometown of San Francisco
is that Wired was never more than an elaborate public-relations strategy....
Wired might best be understood more as the outgrowth of a branch of social
theory and control than of the techno-utopianism with which it is so often
associated.... The loose association of editors and experts under Wired's
masthead consisted mostly of people who were either already, or soon to
become, associated with the Global Business Network, a first-class menu of
futurist business and technology advisors including Kevin Kelly, John
Barlow, [Nicholas] Negroponte, and many of the other digiterati who have
appeared on Wired magazine's covers....

"Futurism has aleays been an act of will; those who give advice are
naturally going to promote themselves as the exclusive purveyors of secreted
wisdom. But when a magazine represents itself as journalism yet actually
serves almost as the newsletter and promotional arm of a consulting firm
with a particular agenda, something is amiss, and eventually its readers
will catch on...."

Rushkoff does admit to liking a lot of what Wired has to offer -- the
writings of Louis Rossetto in particular -- rather he objects to its
manipulation of readers "into a state of suggestible anxiety, through
cleverly exploited language and design", and its hidden cultural agenda
"masquerading as a British effort".

I for one would be interested to know how our American colleagues have
viewed Wired. I find myself thinking, however, that we computing humanists
have some real work to do in the public arena. The promise that we see, the
good that we know can be done, may quite easily be confused with darker
purposes of those whose self-interest is anything but enlightened.

For example, in the latest Times Literary Supplement (4903, 21/3/97, p. 16)
Richard West, in "If in doubt, chuck out" writes about the closing of a
number of British public libraries and the dispersal of their collections --
e.g., the huge and valuable stock of books in the Stoke Newington Church
Street Library's reference section, containing Daniel Defoe's books. Citing
W. J. West's booklet, <cite>The Strange Rise of Semi-literate England: The
dissolution of the libraries (Duckworth, 1991), Richard West notes that, "In
the seven years since he wrote his study, W. J. West has seen the advance of
the computer, which has become the main enemy of the public library and the
reading habit itself." I find that a difficult sentence to swallow, but at
the same time there's all too much idiocy, even sometimes within our
institutions of higher learning, about the replacement of books by
electronic media. If books are going to be replaced anyhow, why keep them?
The British Council's plan to close its lending library in Athens has been
stopped by a concerned group of citizens, but note that the Council figured
on replacing it with a "high-powered information centre". Can we now read
such promotional phrases without a shiver?



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Dr. Willard McCarty, Senior Lecturer, King's College London
voice: +44 (0)171 873 2784 fax: +44 (0)171 873 5801
e-mail: Willard.McCarty@kcl.ac.uk