October 9, 2003

Shorted Out

Filed under: analog — mhoye @ 1:57 pm

Today, on a lark, I picked up a copy of Wired, a magazine I used to read quite a bit. I remember liking it quite a bit – it was interesting in a shiny-thing way, reasonably thick, had some neat-o articles about emerging technologies and, well, back when I was a half-formed proto-geek this kind of silver-inked nerd-porn was tailor-made for guys like me.

While I promise nothing, I will try to avoid rampant hyphen-abuse for the remainder of this entry.

Having said that, I’ve gone through it twice now and I can also remember exactly why I stopped reading this magazine years ago, and why I don’t think I’ll ever pick up another copy.

  • Maybe I’m remembering it through the naive eyes and significantly punier body of my youth, but a copy of Wired used to have a lot more heft to it than this one does. Rolled up, the Wired of old could be used to destroy even the mightiest of flies, should base nature managed to intrude on your deluded visions of technical utopia. This one’s as beefy as a copy of “Teen People”.
  • Good lord, it’s thin on actual content. Worse yet, that content is fluffed out in ways that wouldn’t pass muster in a grade-school english class: big fonts, big line spacing and wide margins. Whoops, I need a four-page essay, but I’ve only got two pages of text here… Hey, I know.
  • It’s starting to fall apart on me. I had a stack of the old ones that I kept, intact, for years. I’ve had this one for two hours, and it’s falling apart on me.
  • It’s page for page more advertisement than article. This isn’t inherently evil, even if it is something they can have proudly in common with Vogue or Cosmopolitain. What’s truly offensive is the advertisements disguised as articles; “What Wired Staffers Bought This Month”, the entire “Play” section… about half of what is ostensibly “content”, really. And illegible, butchered “infographics”… Urg. I recognize some of those tricks from “How To Lie With Statistics”, and the author is either unsalvageably stupid or patronizing me. I consider neither of those options a win.
  • Silver ink. Illegible content and “graphic design” work that occasionally does things like run white text over a partly-white stylized background or puts a big letter over the top half of the letter ‘f’ so that it looks like a ‘t’ and instantly renders the sentence incomprehensible. Assuming you don’t squint for the slight curve at the top of that ‘t’ for clues. Genius.
  • Some of it is old. It is this month’s copy of this supposedly cutting-edge magazine, and it is already dated. I flip through it, thinking “Yeah, I saw this on Slashdot… last month? Maybe on Boing Boing? Yup, that’s it: that’s Cory’s name at the top of the casemods article. Sweet.

Onerous, really.

Again, maybe this is unmitigated naivete, but I remember when this magazine might have, for a brief sliver of time, been relevant.. Now, not so much. The search engine they were affilated with was top-notch. Now, not so much. The “colophon” bit used to have lines in it like “Drugs That Assisted In The Publication Of This Issue”, and was often funny and clever. This issue’s colophon contains the flaccid “Distractions we overcame to get this issue out”, and includes precisely one unintentionally hilarious bit, “Design Department turnovers”. Shit, really? Did all those third-stringers in charge of design get moved back to HR again? That’s a damn shame.

This magazine, which used to at least feel like it was mostly signal, is now composed entirely of noise. The only satisfaction I get from it is that it is somewhat self-fulfilling: one gushing article about the TiVo declares in a big, spacetaking boldface font that “Technology gives you the ability to skip ads. Clutter gives you the reason”. That, in a nutshell, is why I’m never going to look at another copy of Wired again.


  1. Wired was never cool; you were just clueless back then.

    More generally, the “dated” problem seems to be endemic to print media. The weekly newsmagazines are bad enough, but the monthlies (which have longer relative lead times than you’d think from the publication time difference) are just ridiculous.

    Comment by Mike Kozlowski — October 9, 2003 @ 9:29 pm

  2. Yeah, but it was definitely thicker and better assembled. And the articles-to-ads ratio was definitely better.

    Or, as you say, I was dumber.

    Comment by Mike Hoye — October 9, 2003 @ 9:58 pm

  3. I remember reading Wired for the ads – before it was “known”. Quality stuff back in the day.

    Comment by alex — October 9, 2003 @ 10:35 pm

  4. Believe it or not, there’s a legally mandated minimum content-to-ad page ratio. So Wired was thicker back then because they could get more advertisers, and therefore had to write more content.

    Of course, the definition of “content” is pretty loose, which is why Computer Shopper always had its “30 pages listing every printer currently manufactured” articles…

    Comment by Mike Kozlowski — October 10, 2003 @ 10:31 am

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