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justin hall
18 may 1998
history of the english language
craig williamson

the wyrd of wired

prologue - penthouse
Read this! We've heard of old king Caligula:
ugly in times before these he was rare
for sleeping with his sister and battles against the sea.
A young Roman, fever rotted his brain,
never has a king been so sick and sadistic, killing
his most loyal men, and sending senator's wives
to slave as whores for mere pennies of common folk;
after his sweet sister died, he kept her and
moved his manhood within her body then lacking life.
10  These tales of destructive grandeur moved some men
to stage them in modern magnificence, with a motion picture.
The scale of this tribute was grand, tall
monuments to misguided magnificence stood in Italy
in a time of drugs and sex indulgence in
the nineteen seventies. Their craft was expansive, they
emulated Roman opulence, verging on madness themselves;
the project was extended into debt and dissolution.
Desperate to find funds, to finish their film
and see their work reach the eyes of men,
20 they reached out to a penthouse pornographer, Bob Guccione.
He'd taken the technique of a civilized playboy,
well groomed women nearly naked, and added naughty
wild compromisings - pairings and penises, celebrity
women posing in their poorer days, things unseen
in polite print, prior to Penthouse. Bob
propped up old king Caligula's flick in a manner
befitting his dented stature; interspersed amidst the grand acting
of Englishmen playing romans, plotless nymphs and studs
fingered their genitals and ejaculated without regard for his legacy.
1 - electric words
30  We know this story as it was shaped before us,
by a young prince of media there
Louis Rossetto, wearing sneakers with long hair,
he sang silently the song of modern Caligula;
for the assistant director, he ghostwrote The Ultimate Porno.
 Beyond those days of Italian beaches and penthouse pets he'd
since gone on to the Netherlands to start Electric Word;
"The world's least boring computer magazine" they said,
"...focused on very advanced technologies for handling word-based information, and it handled everything from machine translation to word processing, or from voice recognition to grammar checkers."
That was the eighties, where is Electric Word now?
40 As electric words themselves us today surround,
artifacts of Electric Word itself are rare;
published abroad, and not a success it was
not something that stuck on our magazine racks.
Even the tales of struggle, the rise and fall
respect of brave intellectuals seeing before their time
none of this remains in this song; we sing
solely of the technologies, those machines,
and of Louis, with another vision for a magazine
next seen still celebrating the electric word.
50  In high school, Chicago, quite out of the scene
a boy sits on a small hill, buses ride by
on the side of one he spied: a neon flash:
"At last. A magazine for the Digital Age."
 This was the boy who tamed fourteen score
computer conquests; Carmen Sandiego to Phantasie III:
the Wrath of Nickodemus. He beta-tested games even
worked in a software store, where he was the boldest
disk pusher on the famed shopping strip of north
side Chicago - Michigan avenue. Besides his skills at sales
60 he was a travelled teacher, sharing Word Perfect tips
earning more than his age fifteen in hourly pay.
But he was a listless geek, publishing more
poor text than playing his expertise.
 So he came to visit Swarthmore college, on
the far eastern shore of the American states.
Fate interceeded there, that he should
have seen no dorm, nor dining hall
but rather dwell three days with Joe Razza,
a speaker of challenging virtue; who argued:
70 "You who would perform social service!
What is it to help people? When
are you changing their circumstances, and
when are you merely perpetuating the system
that puts you in a position to help in
the first place? Make of yourself a tool
for those you would aid, and let them
decide how you should be used!" And this boy, who
did not yet have a name, answered him,
"Yes, you speak of a challenging virtue. I understand
80 that a wise man has shared important truths
that have not been known to me before.
What you say is more honest than action to mend
a guilty heart; service must work for change,
and change I must not try to control.
I will come to Swarthmore in the
fall to study these things further,
Swarthmore, a place where work comes before pleasure;
Swarthmore, a place where work is pleasure!"
And he came to Swarthmore as he spoke,
2 - when the web was young
90 and lived in Willets first south, where sober mortals
fear to tread, and there he took up a wastrel
lifestyle, imbibing liquor over cards and smoking
more than his share of sensimilla; he could swallow
huge bongloads without coughing or belching
and many marijuana virgins did he deflower there
and took he their photos and later shared with them
their madness. Still, he remained a computer maven,
and after these times, alone, meandering
about on the internet, when the web was young,
100 he found some sex drugs and lock picking information there,
and in a barren land unpopulated, he settled his home
page; he penned these tales of perditious hours
wandering for fleeting pleasure. An early traveller, he
became a guide; unsure of his own path, he
lead people nowhere. And they came back to him.
And so too did he stumble upon Wired, this bus
announced magazine; they also had a web site.
In the murky waters where human meets machine
they were like a lighthouse, beaming a certain truth;
110 they claimed the title of transcriber, chronicler
of those great deeds of history in progress:
"the digital revolution" they cried, Wired, which had opinions.
And the boy, who was still without a name,
called on them, "Oh I have a great desire to
work with you who are so cool, Wired,
other souls may seek this position; but not like I;
i who can troubleshoot any software problem, I
who have crawled under the desks of business;
120 who have worn a tie and still kept
my cool; I who am young and hip and I surf web;
i who have this web site, I have prepared myself
for you, and I will perform any feat or task -
photocopy a mountain of media, and I can clean trashcans
let me do anything to be near you!"
He hurled these phrases once, at editorial
where he was denied with silence and
again to the office manager, he cried his desire
and found no willing ears there, no hiring.
130 After two again he tried, the boy who had
no name, he pronounced finally a title he'd
earned online: "Justin's Links from the Underground" and
Julie Petersen heard the call; she, the
woman who runs in all ways like a horse, said,
"I have seen this web as you have and
from your work I can see you love it as I
do. Where did you get that picture of cary grant
taking acid? Your web page is funny; you
may visit us but we can promise little."
3 - wyrd of wired
140 And so the boy packed up his new name, the
underground, and took Colourball, the great
Powerbook 180, across the country typing
to golden gated San Francisco, where lived
both Wired and his sister Christina, bearer of three children
and beautiful. And he strode in to the wood beamed
office; there was noise, and coloured hair, a parrot
and nearly too many people. The boy with borrowed
tasseled loafers found the band of Wired Online
standing tall in sandals and ponytails; their raiment
150 of purple and tied dyes; in their eyes a drug craze.
They drank lemonade in South Park, hoisting a
plastic cup to the new web, new comrades and
work that was to come. The boy, now one of them
and they together formed HotWired, the brave
electronic son of Wired. In their office they plotted
this site to celebrate the web, where bold images
and new philosophies would reach further than
all of Caligula's malignant projects. "New thinking
for a new medium" the battle cry - brave fun online.
160 In a south of Market building they stretched themselves
on doors for tables and cheap rolling chairs;
their phones rang; their new Macintoshes sat online
under hot pink ethernet cable blazing overhead;
decorated and fast enough, the Hotwired gear were honed toys.
This boy, now nineteen winters old, from
the underground, played well and loved his time
there. And on that first day, like a shot
of mercury from a narrow syringe, Louis Rossetto,
wearing sneakers with long hair, emerged
170 from the beach and Caligula into the Wired lunchroom;
around him, sixty hearty savvy media makers,
the most fashionable of a dozen different sets
with ideas braver than those even of Electric Word,
ready around a broad round table, beneath a grand
banner blow up cover of wired one point two, the
crypto rebels issue: under the logo, digital anarchists with
a stars and stripes flag held bar coded white
masks to their faces. Louis the leader was there to
rally the troops, "Welcome to the new world, where
180 we define the bleeding edge. No other company
knows what we know. No one is so close to
the future! Fate favours magazines when they
drive the news themselves. We have worked for two
winters to be here together, and we now move to
define the future again. I welcome you of HotWired
into our home here; Wired is like a child
to me, and we are like a family." So
they there raised sentiments around the new
digital offspring, and wished that they might carry
190 the Wired future forward.
                The boy stood by,
watching these words and washing himself
in the new ideals - they were bold! Making history
and leading the charge to a digital future! Instead
of Swarthmore, here was a noble calling, heralding
the onset of new ways to live. This was
the best way for him to work in the world.
So the boy named now from the underground
approached Louis later for to better understand
the mission of the magazine, and he was rebuffed
4 - branding
200 as he cried, "Sir, I am honoured to work
with you amidst this edge-wise crew and
I wonder how we came to be here; I ask
only that you tell me the story of your
creation and what drives you so." Though
he initially dismissed the boy from underground,
it was not long before Louis, wearing sneakers
with long hair, took time to speak bold words
on branding to him: "What is it that makes
America great? It is that choice we have when
210 we stride into a supermarket; that we may select
from thousands of products and each type has
ten contenders. Amidst the glorious heaps
of consumer bounty like no nation has
ever known, how is it that we make our
selections? Brands! we look for names and product
legacies familiar to us. Upon these names do we
place our trust, that we might know how best
to feed our families, to wipe our asses,
these brands are how we identify ourselves
220 in a world where otherwise we wander!"
These brave words on branding stood far
in sentiment from the words of Joe Razza,
speaking of difficult virtue. Here was a path to
personal investment; building your reputation that others
might purchase you. Joe Razza spoke of integration,
a less glamorous means to throw a party:
letting your visitors decide what they want
to celebrate. Louis's words were easier, and
arbitrating cool more immediately monetarily profitable.
230  Over time there were other brave folk the boy met
there in the Wired digital workplace:
Jonathan Steuer, the young visionary who brought
Wired onto the web, and who had a truly electric,
eclectic taste in culture. Jonathan, who offered him a home
amidst the young geeks of San Francisco,
they that lived with the Internet in their bedrooms
before such things were for sale;
and Howard Lee Rheingold, he who had conjured books on
concepts: "Virtual Reality" and "Virtual Community"
5 - how the heirarchy was
240 ages before the pens of other men,
Howard who managed not only coherent computer academics
but also dressed and spoke like a psychedelic explosion.
In an age when magic is seldom mentioned
Howard was a wizard, both wise and wild.
With these more mystical souls the boy from underground
sided as web-launch approached with the winter,
the bards of other tribes penned tales
of the glory and brains of this crew,
as HotWired took a turn for branding away from fun
250 and away from the idea of bringing people together
making something for people to use as they would.
Hotwiredlings and management traded stares like daggers
in the awkward quiet that permeates an office gone wrong
where the project between them was floudering
its soul on the line, as the real parents were
being divorced for surrogates. The boy could see
the family of Louis coming apart as a head
from a body; those who ran the company
listening less to those below them,
260 HotWired, once new, was turning old.
And so the boy from underground was
called on to dispatch a letter of invitation
to the Wired troops; there was a celebration planned,
the mead and media was to flow, to mark the second
winter of the Wired world. Plates of steaming delicacies
and flagons of the finest brew were offered to
the most high, while the cheaper members of
the family were left two drink tickets at Bimbos;
this was for the boy to explain to his
270 lovely cohort, and explain over e-mail he did, in
frank and perhaps rebellious terms, how
the heirarchy was. And so the boy saw how
bitter words will work in a hot-tempered
Louis, wearing sneakers with long hair
was incensed, furious and called on the boy
from underground; "Come hither, into my office
that you might know of my anger,
how you have betrayed us, and the greatest
opportunity of your life. You who have tasted
280 of our success have chosen to spill ill will
over the wires. You have moved for vengeance
against those who have done you no wrong."
The boy stood his ground against elitism until
he thought Louis would listen no further,
and then he apologized and earned a small smile
and left that office and soon that job
and returned to Swarthmore, and studied
words like Joe Razza's, challenging virtue.
Louis, wearing sneakers with long hair, he
290 like any king great or small, lost his
power to time and inability to change;
Wired was soon sold: only the fertile old media
lands, the magazine went to Conde Nast
and Louis was left holding some Wired web sites.
Few succeeded in charting culture wrought by technology like that
rare moment when men mindful of community and those mindful
of brand met to make something new out of something
old. The merger of virtue and the digital world
is still being shaped, in songs beyond these.
analysis: wyrdlit

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