How Wired Magazine Changed the Way We Talk About Technology

20th-anniversary issue sneak peek

Imagine a time before smartphones. Before laptops. Before Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and even the mighty Google. A world without Web browsers, when the Internet belonged to universities and going online meant logging onto a local electronic bulletin board. Now imagine being able to smell it all coming—not the details, but the impact of a networked world on culture, business, politics, daily life. These were the preconditions that spawned Wired.

In 1988, Louis Rossetto, an adventurer, onetime novelist and avid libertarian, sensed that the encoding of information in 1s and 0s was going to change everything. Living in Amsterdam at the time, he and Jane Metcalfe, his partner in business and life, had parlayed a job at an obscure language translation service into a magazine, Electric Word. The publication, produced on a Macintosh using early desktop publishing tools, evoked a digital universe that was not about gadgetry or business aids, but a force for global transformation.

The Beginning of the Beginning

Over the following year, Rossetto and Metcalfe hammered out a business plan for a new magazine, tentatively called Millennium, that would take this revolution to the U.S. mainstream. Technology, Rossetto predicted, would be the rock ’n’ roll of the 1990s, and the pair aimed to make Millennium its standard-bearer. For design support, they enlisted their friends John Plunkett and Barbara Kuhr.

The foursome had met a few years earlier in Paris, where Rossetto and Plunkett worked together on a financial newsletter. The two men shared an obsession with magazines and the theories of media-theorist-cum-oracle Marshall McLuhan. By the early ’90s, Plunkett and Kuhr had settled in New York, where they focused on high-end corporate publications and delved into the emerging digital interface between graphic design software and professional printing.

In 1991, Rossetto and Metcalfe were ready to execute their plan. They called Plunkett and Kuhr and said, “Let’s go.”

Louis Rossetto (editor/publisher): I had been working with Jane for some time on the business plan and financial model. It seemed like the right time to do it.

Jane Metcalfe (president): We could see it so vividly. In Amsterdam, Philips was the Sony of its day. They were experimenting with all these data types. It was a time of great imagination about digital media. We’d been in it since the late ’80s, watching it, reporting on it, and it was accelerating.

Rossetto: So I called John and said we should get together and talk. Why don’t we meet up at the Macworld Expo in San Francisco?

John Plunkett (creative director): Up to that point, I was skeptical that we were ever going to make a magazine. When we went to Macworld, it went from theoretical to tangible.

Rossetto: I remember meeting with John Plunkett, Randy Stickrod [founder of Computer Graphics World] and Jim Felici [Europe editor of desktop publishing journal Publish!] on a little mezzanine where the escalators go down into Moscone Center. We sat there talking about this magazine, how it needed to be made and we were the guys to make it. John would do the design. Randy had the financial contacts. Jim would be managing editor. I’d be publisher. Jane, who didn’t come with us to San Francisco, would be president.

Metcalfe: We left with a commitment. We would move to San Francisco to make this magazine.

But the magazine still didn’t have a name.

Plunkett: Millennium turned out to be the name of a magazine of film criticism. Louis ran into a disagreement with his Dutch publisher about who owned Electric Word.

Rossetto: John wanted to call it Digit. Digit—dig it—get it?

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