July 19th, 2006


Being (just a teensy bit less) digital

My new column for Wired News is The Curse of Storage, and it connects Ikea's Trissa LP crate to the Chinese emperor Qin Huang-di, somehow.

I love having a column. I mean, I love having two columns; Click Opera is a column too. But I love having a professional one. I remember reading the columns of a certain Albert Morris in The Scotsman when I was a kid, and thinking what a great job he had, just being able to write about whatever crossed his mind, week in, week out. How come he never ran out of things to say? How did he manage to wrap topical stuff up in his own characteristic concerns? And how did he turn such elegant phrases so consistently? Maybe it just became a habit when you wrote that much. (Read Morris' last column for the paper, written just last year after 35 years at it.)

When I meet people and get asked what I do, I enjoy explaining "I have a column in Wired" as one of my answers. But up until this week I've had to qualify that with some extra explanation. If people have heard of Wired magazine, I then have to explain that my column is in Wired News, the online site, and that Wired News and Wired magazine, although they started under the same owner and still have ties, have been under different parent companies since 1999. That's when Wired News was bought by Lycos. Wired magazine, on the other hand, has been owned by Condé Nast for a few years.

Well, I'm pleased to say that I'll never have to give that explanation again. Last week Condé Nast bought Wired News from Lycos for $25 million. So now the two Wireds are re-united. Wired News has returned to "the beloved homeland"; once again, it sits beside its paper sister, the digital culture publication started by Louis Rosetto in Amsterdam in 1992.

I must say that I've always written my columns as if I were writing for that original Wired, which I read religiously in the mid-90s. (I even met and had a chat with Rosetto in Amsterdam in 1996.) I've always tried to bring the same attitude to these columns as figures like Nicholas Negroponte did to the original Wired; Negroponte didn't look at specific technologies so much as the human state of "being digital". I also loved William Giibson's articles for the magazine, like his famous one on Singapore. Or their interviews with people like Rem Koolhaas or Brian Eno.

When I was first hired by Wired, my commissioning editor Leander Kahney (born British but based in San Francisco, Leander is author of The Cult of Mac and The Cult of iPod) told me it was for two reasons: he loved Click Opera and he liked the Japanese angle so often featured in my writings.

Interestingly enough, ever since I've been writing for Wired News, the company has been owned by Lycos, itself owned by a Korean internet service provider called Daum. That Asian angle was purely structural -- the site is very much an American one -- but it does reflect the thoroughly trans-cultural nature of business structure, a globalism I've been able to match in my writing, which tends to come from a different city each month. There may be no columns from Seoul yet, but it matters to me that my writings get translated and run in the Culture section of Hotwired Japan, and even get streamed to i-modes. It means I not only have a column which is often about Japan, but one which gets read in Japan, in Japanese... and even on keitais.

Editorially, nothing will change at Wired News under Condé Nast. I welcome the reunification with the magazine, which might lead to more crossovers between the bit-based Wired and the atom-based Wired. It's also nice to be under the umbrella of the organization that publishes Vogue, The New Yorker, The Architectural Digest and Condé Nast Traveller. I like the fact that those magazines are about human experiences, travel and ideas and colour and texture and lifestyles rather than machines, because that's the focus of my writing too. Hey, they even own lots of cooking magazines! Maybe I could do some cookery columns for Wired! Now there's texture for you!