Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Reading WIRED and Fast Company

I have become a regular WIRED reader, and I'm not altogether sure why. I remain a technophobe (if not a Luddite), so the pages devoted to gadgets and computer innovations are mostly lost on me. I'm genetically predisposed to viewing anyone's optimism with outright distrust, and WIRED is resolutely optimistic. And WIRED's writing style inevitably makes me a little nuts -- here's one example, on a topic I've been musing over of late: DEVO.

"[DEVO] recently extended the brand, helping Disney launch Devo 2.0, an ensemble of 10-to 13-year-old kids who sing Devo classics. Is it evolution or devolution that a band once considered too odd for radio is the latest offering from one of the largest media companies on the planet?"

Waiting for the writer's prognosis? Final paragraph: "Devo 2.0 updates the idea for a new generation. 'It could be an interesting new way to look at Devo,' [DEVO frontman Mark Mothersbaugh] reflects. 'Or it could be really stupid.'" Judgement appears to be suspended, but the subject matter is portrayed with such cheerful brio that the inescapable conclusion for this reader is -- because Mothersbaugh's take on things is so ironic, Devo 2.0 is probably really stupid and "rilly kewl".

This sort of reportage represents an improvement of sorts on the earlier WIRED's billboard-style "The Revolution Is Here!" optimism. After retrieving a few 10-year-old issues from the basement and contrasting them with the current magazine, I have to say I miss the high-grade quality of paper, and the charming insertion of Marshall McLuhan's visage (and words) into the monthly masthead. The current WIRED is slimmer, void of McLuhan, and built to be read faster. It's probably the latter I enjoy most: a great deal of what WIRED gassed on about in the 90s was worth less than half the type & hype.

In tandem with WIRED is Fast Company, a magazine my wife subscribes to. FC serves to keep her company (heh), I think. The bulk of any given issue acknowledges the condition of North American life -- we work too long and too hard, for and with people who make us crazy -- then offers up tactical analysis and a bromide or two to keep the reader going. FC is, at heart, as optimistic as WIRED, but is a bit more even-tempered about it. WIRED and FC both make a point of rejoicing at those strange intersections where anarchy and the corporation meet. And they are both unabashadly "lite" about subjects that have at times mired me in the Slough of Despond.

I think I read both magazines in an effort to enhance some personal sense of possibility. For much of my 20s and 30s I read text-heavy monthlies of the What Is To Be Done? mindset. I supplemented this ideological diet with glossies -- Esquire and GQ were frequent purchases, and from 94-97 Details was something of a lifeline. Today all three of those magazines seem like they're being published by and for some alien species. I didn't complain when the cheesecake factor was gradually upped in the first two, and the gay slant of the new Details was a bit of a curiosity at first. But all three reached a tipping point at roughly the same time. Of course, maybe it was just me -- but I doubt it, because the focus on distraction seemed to intensify after 9/11, and after two or three months of looking at the same magazines, the same girls, cars, watches and suits and repeatedly asking myself, "Honestly: who the hell cares about this shit?" I stopped buying them. (Full disclosure: I still buy the occasional ish of British Esquire -- pretentiously literary (last December's all-star audience with Paul Auster was an enticing conceptual salad, lightly dressed with a tart vinaigrette) and unpretentiously laddy (I refer not just to the "birds", but to pieces like (again) last December's tribute to Led Zep thumper John Bonham), the magazine often embodies my notion of a truly guilty pleasure.)

As I alluded to earlier, so much of me and my way of thinking is heavy, that I genuinely enjoy a lighter approach to possibility and potential, wherever I end up finding it. Lately it's been in the pages of WIRED and Fast Company. If there are other (better?) resources that occur to you, tag the comments below: I'm all ears.

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