dwh@berlin.snafu.de (David Hudson) (by way of Pit Schultz ) on Thu, 12 Dec 96 00:26 MET

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nettime: LR Interview, pt. 3

DH: If networked communications are to be an alternative to electoral
politics, I guess the most obvious question is the most pertinent. How? Do
you see a consensus building out there on any single issue other than the
CDA (which you've got to admit is a special case in that, one, it was so
blatantly absurd, and two, we all had a shared interest in its defeat)?

Otherwise, it's endless, circular argumentation that almost inevitably
degenerates into personal attacks, flame wars, etc. Maybe I'm looking in
all the wrong places. Do you see tribes laying down their weapons anywhere
out there?

What I hear here are magnificent, beautiful ideas. But I don't see them
being put into practice. Do you?

LR: Hey when you're at a keyboard, you can't hold a weapon. All you can
hurl are ideas. And in the end, I'm a believer that the best ideas will win
out, because the universe does not reward an inaccurate assessment of

I don't think the CDA is a special case. It was an assault on what the
arrogant political establishment thought was a small, hapless minority. And
this minority, namely us, if we had reacted like every other minority by
holding protest marches, lobbying politicians, infiltrating local party
organizations, etcetera, etcetera ad nauseum, would still be bound by this
disgusting law as we spent years trying to change the minds of a political
generation that is terminally out to lunch.

Instead we used the Net. And we turned the entire thing around.

This is not an exception, nor a trivial example. Keeping the government out
of cyberspace is crucial to the Net's development, and the development of
the New Economy and global consciousness. To me, that one single battle, in
what is still a very large war, was an incredibly important turning point.

More broadly, I think we just have to get away from this idea that passing
a law is somehow the end goal of democracy. It's just not. It's
increasingly the booby prize, the indication that a solution has been
locked in for a problem that may no longer exist, with the new law itself
now a problem.

I also disagree that discussion on the Net is all circular argumentation.
It's discussion. It's struggle. It's ideas brewing. Some of these are very
big ideas. It takes time to diffuse them, work them all out, for people to
get their minds around them, to contest them, reject them, or accept them.

The very fact that this discussion is beginning is a triumph. That you
cannot point to any one "law" that was passed because of it to me means
that you are looking at the wrong measure of its success.

In fact, this explicitly "political" discussion being conducted on the Net
today is only part of the evolution of non-electoral decision-making and
new consensus building. Let me put it another way, the way Walter Wriston
puts it in the current issue of Wired. Networks have created a daily
plebiscite on government policy, held by money managers and currency
traders sitting in front of over 300,000 terminals around the world.
There's no little screen that pops up when Clinton commits to a balanced
budget in his first term and asks: thumbs up or thumbs down. No, the
plebiscite is whether those managers buy or sell US government securities
or currency. If they do, the dollar is supported and Clinton is, in effect,
backed. If they don't like what he's doing, they sell dollars, the dollar
starts to move in the wrong direction, and Clinton has to change course.

This financial hive mind is not restricted to thinking about governments.
The same thinking is applied to companies, who also have to behave
responsibly to retain the support of this community.

And the same sort of hive mind is evolving in other disciplines as well,
whether that's legal, educational, medical, or probably even religious. To
me, it is the evolution of this hive mind that is more important than any
one particular law you can point to and say today, the Net made that

DH: "Helping to spread the digital revolution seems to me to be the best
way to create the most social good, the most wealth, a better civil
society." On the one hand, this strikes a chord and I couldn't agree with
you more wholeheartedly. On the other, I hear the word "revolution" being
coopted to serve the "same as it ever was", only more so.

LR: We disagree. The world is changing radically, on every level. The Cold
War is over. IBM is no longer the king of the hill. Microsoft is worth more
than General Motors. Large power blocs are breaking up. 40 million people
are connected to the Net. New business creation is accelerating. Netizens
have actually rolled back a government assault on our rights. Telecommuting
is a reality. People are living longer and better. Cities in advanced
economies are becoming less polluted. Power is diffusing out of centralized
institutions. We are emerging into a much less rigid, much more fluid
world. Global consciousness is arriving. A New Economy is being born. This
is most assuredly not more of the "same."

DH: The brilliance that went into Wired's conception and packaging
immediately made it the most widely recognized voice of that revolution, an
incredible position of power, and as some would see it, responsibility. If
it were on Wired's agenda, how would you go about communicating that the
coming transition, be it an evolution or a revolution, is inclusive rather
than exclusive to those who fear being left out?

LR: I suppose I haven't felt it necessary to explicitly spell this out
because I find the possibility of everyone not being included to be
literally incredible.

Kevin talks about the fax effect. A single fax is worthless. Two faxes, you
start to get some value, you can actually send something to someone else.
Indeed, you start to realize: hey, the more people who have faxes, the more
valuable this thing is, the better my life is, I'm motivated to encourage
other people to buy faxes because the value of fax machines increases with
their diffusion, and not just linearly, but geometrically. At that point
not only is the fax company a promoter of faxes, the users become
evangelists as well. And hence hasten the spread, the creation of mass
market, the plummeting price of fax machines.

This imperative to include people, to make sure they are connected, is a
part of a new kind of economics. It's one that's based not on scarcity, but
on ubiquity. Simply, more people who possess certain goods and services
means more wealth for all, as opposed to the old economics that said value
came from the scarcity of an object, whether that was information,
expertise, or money. All the incentives, then, are for the companies and
participants in this revolution to be trying to pull people in, make them
part of the New Economy.

The idea that we need to worry about anyone being "left out" is entirely
atavistic to me, a product of that old economics of scarcity, and the 19th
century social thinking that grew out of it. Mass communication, mass
production, mass poverty, mass markets, mass society, mass media, mass
democracy -- that's history. Ford and Marx are well and truly dead. We are
living in the 21st century.

A more appropriate concern looking to the future is the obverse of the
worry for people being left out -- namely, the consequences of everyone
being connected. An entirely appropriate line of criticism of this
Revolution might explore what it really means if 5 billion brains are
connected together. Is this the ultimate, horrible, dystopian nightmare?
(Or perhaps just less horrible than the world we are leaving behind?)

DH: Your example of the hive mind self-regulating the world of finance
certainly describes one aspect of the way things get run, but there are
checks and balances. As a matter of fact, the Crash of '87 could be
described as something of a mini-prelude to the "dystopian nightmare" you
speculate on should five billion brains get connected. Put speed and panic
together and disaster is likely to escalate geometrically.

LR: Perhaps. But then again, the Crash of '87 hasn't repeated itself. On
the contrary, the market has never been higher. Perhaps because the lessons
were integrated back into the process. In other words, we learn.

But you're right, of course. Who knows where all this is going in the long
run? I just think at this stage it's best to approach it with a certain
critical optimism, because the possible negative outcomes that've been
forwarded are mostly about fears or ideological biases, rather than
rational examination of the issues.

DH: Would you do away with the Federal Reserve as well?

LR: At the moment, the Fed is one bank in a multi-bank global monetary
system. My guess is that its influence on the domestic and world scene is
going to diminish with the arrival of ecash. It already has with the
arrival of network money trading. It's not a matter whether I think that's
good or bad, it's just
happening. Better that we should understand what's going on and think about
how we can preserve our financial security in a more complex world.

DH: And then the law. I'm tempted to ask about so many sets of laws, it's
hard to select a reasonable number that'd be fair to ask you to respond to.
Just these, then: labor laws, consumer protection and the most basic
criminal laws. How does the hive mind deal with murder, for example?

LR: Laws don't control 95 percent of your and my behavior, the uncodified
norms of how we live together in civil society do. Laws are what happens
when society reaches consensus. Laws don't create consensus. Italy is full
of tax laws. No one follows them. Highways have speed limits. If they're
too low, no one follows them.

The law is neither the only nor necessarily the best method for insuring
justice in society. Laws are only as effective as the faith people place
them to actually control behavior. Clearly, the justice system in this
country is in crisis. With the war on some drugs, we have a criminal system
literally creates criminals. And the civil courts have become a huge
welfare system for trial lawyers.

And specifically, how does the hive mind deal with murder? I don't really
know, but you might ask OJ.

DH: Finally, services. What would be the bare bone set of government
services you'd retain, if any?

LR: David, I don't have a thousand point program for how we get from here
to the future. I just want to help start the discussion. Government is not
going away. Governments perform all sorts of services -- like the provision
of legal and protective services, and others that you have pointed out --
which are and will remain essential to human society. I'm just saying that
in revolutionary times like these, we need to question everything,
including that most sacred of sacred cows, the state. What is obsolete,
what is really necessary? That questioning is going on in the business
realm, and even in our personal lives -- it should also be part of a
discussion of the political as well. Ideas which we take for granted should
be challenged. When Galileo said the earth wasn't the center of the
universe, but revolved around the sun, he was considered a monster. Now
it's conventional wisdom. Everything, as Barlow says, is in the process of
becoming its opposite.

DH: Ok. The "horror stories". It would be foolish and highly unethical of
me to bring up the names of anyone whose story hasn't already "gone
public." I didn't in the published version of the interview with Paulina
(the Katz/Kelly run-in seemed common knowledge enough), and won't now. But
there do seem to be certain categories complaints fall into: paychecks have
been cut with a curt "take it or leave it"; writers' work has either been
severely edited or killed altogether because it is not "politically

LR: I guess I take offense at anonymous charges being surfaced somewhere,
then repeated somewhere else, then quoted in a third story as though they
were fact, when they were never sourced in the first instance, and we never
had a chance to rebut them.

Take Katz/Kelly. As I recall it, Kevin had a problem with a story Jon was
working on. He felt it did not move beyond the arguments Jon had made in
his last piece. He tried working with Jon on it, others tried working with
Jon on it, in the end, it didn't work. That doesn't mean we don't respect
Jon, that
Kevin doesn't respect Jon, it only means that that particular story didn't
work for us.

Was this the most elegant way of dealing with this particular situation? In
retrospect, probably not. But Kevin meant no disrespect, and Jon continues
to work with us -- on Netizen, on stories for the magazine (the July cover
was his), and with HardWired. We would all like every interaction we have
with everyone to be perfect. Sometimes they're not.

Writer's write, editors edit. That's the way the world works. However, no
story that I am familiar with "was severely edited or killed altogether
because it is not politically correct." The only political story I
intervened in was David Kline's piece of government. When I first saw it, I
thought it was basically your standard Kennedy-liberal justification for
government meddling.

We have a question around here: what's the revolution of the month? Kline's
was no Kroker/Dery analysis. It reminded me of what I used to read in New
Republic when I was in college. In other words, conventional wisdom. I have
no problem with people who believe in conventional wisdom. There are plenty
of venues where it gets exposure all the time. In fact, just about all the
rest of media. What I wanted was more meat, more bite. I marked it up,
Kevin talked some more with David, David did another cut, which added
another layer on top of the liberal arguments he had already made. I was
still unsatisfied with it. I was overruled. It ran. I still think it's not
a very compelling reason for believing we need government. But the fact is
it ran.

In all cases, "politically correct" is not the standard here. Being smart
and new is. Back to my original editor's statement in our first issue. "Our
first instruction to our writers: Amaze us." That still stands, even about

And finally, one of Wired's ten heuristics is: "Legendary customer and
contributor service." We are still a long way from achieving it. But we
really try. Every issue, we have probably 150 to 200 contributors. They are
handled by the 40 people who work in edit and art, and then another ten in
accounting. That's a lot of personal and commercial transactions. Multiply
that by the 48 months we've been in business, and we're talking about a
large number of people we've worked with, a lot of interactions. I wish
every one was perfect. In this life, unfortunately, that's pretty much not
possible. But my guess is that if you took a survey of Wired contributors,
you would find that the overwhelming majority feel very good about the
relationship they have with Wired, and want to continue to work with us.

DH: ...there's a cultish inside/outside thing going on, wherein anyone who
speaks of the inside on the outside gets it.

LR: This is plain wrong. Who "gets it." Gets what? What is there to tell
about the inside on the outside? This just sounds paranoid.

DH: And then, the personal thing. We've brought it up before, but really
only as it pertains to people identifying Wired with you. It works the
other way around, too.

Here's a very public example. Jon Katz has his reasons for not wanting to
get involved with Wired TV ("The Netizen", or whatever it'll eventually be
called). When interviewed, he states them. At the same time, his genuine
admiration for you personally is unmistakable.

Yet there you go, into a very public forum and attack him on such a brutal
and personal level. His physical appearance? Why?

LR: This is one of those "When did you stop beating your wife?" questions.
I did not attack Jon on "a brutal and personal level." <

Even lovers can have quarrels, and even in public. It's a funny kind of
persecution where we love the guy and publish him continuously.

In that particular instance, I repeated a comment he made to me about why
he didn't want to be in the Netizen TV show. Among the reasons he gave was
his personal appearance, as though that disqualified him from appearing. I
was trying to say that his personal appearance was irrelevant, that old
television esthetics were irrelevant, they were not part of Wired's
television effort, and that we wanted him because of the force of his
ideas. Which we are trying as hard as we can to spread in as many venues as
we have access to. In essence, I could barely take the appearance issue
seriously, and had no idea I had stepped over any line with him until he
emailed me the next morning. At which point I apologized to him, telling
him what I'm telling you, namely that I had no intention to insult or

DH: Let's tie this into the article I'm working on now. Never mind the
ethics involved, no matter how "tired," does this make good business sense?
If, now that the market's looking a bit healthier, you're getting ready to
start the IPO process again, no matter which way you slice it, this doesn't
look good or bode well for Wired as a long-term investment.

Because when employees are tossed out on their ear or generally abused, in
public or private, especially the eloquent writer ones, they tend to get
vocal and publish Wired rants left and right. Some rants are good for
Wired. They make it look like that spunky publication that gets people all
riled up. But a lot of rants, a steadily increasing number of rants, is
going to give investors pause, right?

LR: What's wrong with this rant is that it's long on allegations and short
on facts. It's utterly unsurprising that after our four years in business,
some people don't like us. Nor that they would vent their dislike in public
forums. Just because it appears in type, however, doesn't make it true.

What I object to is repeating Paulina's allegations about "horror stories"
without documenting the stories. Paulina saying there are "horror stories"
isn't good enough, she may not be an unbiased observer here (an
understatement, to say the least). You need to dig out the "horror stories"
themselves. Otherwise, all you're doing is repeating unfounded allegations,
spreading bad memes.

At which point, I get frustrated. Because you're not talking about "vague
stories by disgruntled contributors about alleged slights to people who
work with Wired." You're stating as fact that there are "horror stories" at
Wired, without a shred of proof. Forget about naming names, you can't even
describe what constitutes "horror" here, much less quantify it. Instead,
you give credence to a harsh accusation, and pass the bad meme along,
forcing us to either have to live with an egregious misperception about
Wired, or try to chase it down and combat it in every venue where it is
casually quoted and passed along.

DH: There's a linkage between what many perceive to be the cold politics of
libertarianism and the cold shoulder shown to "defectors". That linkage is
central to the article. Is it a fair judgment?

LR: This whole discussion began with a story you were writing about Paulina
Borsook and Wired, the "defector" you are apparently referring to (how she
can be a defector and contributor at the same time is, of course, a leap of
logic itself). From her assertions as to what transpired with Peter and
HardWired, you are trying to prove a general thesis about Wired. If I were
you, I would question the assertions in the first place, and then the
conclusions you draw from them.

I have no interest in talking about Paulina. I do challenge, however, her
comments about selfishness. According to Paulina's argument, the very fact
that people don't believe in using the government to correct social ills is
QED a manifestation of their selfishness. It's like she read her Rand too

Just because you believe state action is often immoral, and even more often
ineffectual if not actually dangerous, doesn't mean you are "cold," or wish
ill of your fellow human. On the contrary, you may actually believe that
voluntary interaction is a more moral, and ultimately more efficacious way
of insuring justice and a better life for more people. And just because you
don't rush out and become a social worker, doesn't mean you aren't
contributing in a major way to improving the world around you.

As to "defectors" and "cold shoulders" -- I repeat, after four years, we
have worked with thousands of people. We believe we have treated and will
continue to treat all of them fairly. Beyond fairly, well. They don't all
agree with us; indeed, they often disagree with us (_we_ even disagree with
us); the vast majority still work with us.

DH: Also central to the article is a certain vicious circle; the worse
Wired's image becomes, the more irrational and cold the treatment of people
who are seen as in the way; which in turn, worsens Wired's image, and so
on. Bad business, bad PR and bad blood. Fair or totally out to lunch?

LR: Totally out to lunch. Maybe the formulation is: the more Wired
succeeds, the more frustrated its detractors become, the more vicious their
allegations, the more they try to tarnish Wired's image, and so on -- all
the while Wired participates in a virtuous circle, producing great content
from a great work environment, which attracts satisfied users, retains
employee loyalty, and establishes deep ties with an ever-widening group of
valued contributors, and so on.

DH: Louis, many of the things you've said in the last couple of messages
have made me stop dead in my tracks and think. Hard. This is why I value
Wired. A friend was telling me the other day that he disagrees with just
about everything Wired stands for but hopes to God it never goes away. I'm
with him.

LR: I appreciate your comments, David, thank you. Clearly, I've enjoyed our
exchange as well. And I'm ready to discuss any other issues, and any other
"horror stories" with you in the future. Indeed, I would appreciate the
opportunity to discuss them before you pass them on to your readers or
friends, instead of having to chase after them. I know Wired isn't perfect.
I also know we do a pretty good job on a whole lot of dimensions. The
highest complement you can give us is not that you agree with us, but that
we made you stop and think. What more can a magazine of ideas ask for?


David Hudson                    REWIRED <www.rewired.com>
dwh@berlin.snafu.de             Journal of a Strained Net


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