Marisa Bowe, the editor-in-chief of Icon CMT’s Word, talks about Marxism, Beck, Noam Chomsky and the dawn of the computer age all before noon. The pop/intellectual mix evokes downtown New York’s radicalism and Silicon Alley’s populism-as does Word, a Web ‘zine that has received kudos from sources as mainstream as a Newsweek reader poll and as iconoclastic as I.D. magazine (for best Web design). In its two years, Word has developed a strong following among the Web cognoscenti for its literary and graphic achievements.
Bowe’s roots are firmly in the alternative media. One of her highlights was an article she wrote for the leftist paper In These Times about why hipsters wear black. The piece took her a year to research. “My background never seemed to add up to anything particular until the Web,” she says.
Unlike other, much younger, cyber stars, the 38-year-old Bowe has tech credentials that date to the mid-1970s. Her father worked for Control Data Corp., a pioneering computer company in Minneapolis. Control Data invented a version of the computer terminal, giving her access to early networks. While she was chatting online, her brother was playing ASCII-based games with kids from Venezuela. Still, as advanced as her family was, for Bowe the dawn of online was less technological than hormonal. “I just was flirting with all these boys,” she admits. “That was my introduction to computers. I’ve always said I’ve had this positive emotional connection to computers from the beginning.”
After stints on an alternative paper and a PBS station in Minneapolis, Bowe moved to New York to continue to work in underground TV. All along, she pursued her interests in documentary film, covering aspects of life overlooked by the established media. But she grew tired of preaching alternative culture to the converted. “How do people live?” she asks. “This fascinates me, and you never see it. You only get to read about Tom Cruise or Uma Thurman.”
In 1991, her interests merged when she discovered Echo, the East Coast version of San Francisco’s famed online community The Well. She became hooked immediately and went from being a user to running online conferences and discussion groups.
At Word, Bowe and a staff of six produce a Web site that declares its independence from other media and cultural products. Popular areas include the first-person tales in “Desire” and “Work.” As bandwidth increases, Bowe notes, Word will add more pictures and documentary-style touches.