I like Wired. I wouldn’t shout about it in polite company, just as transport wonks would hide their love of Top Gear. But I like its tone. Its excitement. Its very short sentences. Having done more than my share of zeitgeist surfing in think-tank world, I recognise the breathless neologisms and relentless over-extrapolation of novelty. Reading Wired is exhausting. Like being punched in the face by the new.
My local newsagent, which proudly claims to be ‘Porn Free’, serves up both US and UK flavours of Wired’s technoporn. The UK version is relatively new. It borrows much of its big brother’s material, dilutes some of the adjectives and mixes in some British examples. But it just doesn’t feel right. Recent reporting about Silicon Roundabout reads as though it was written by special advisers from the department of Business, Innovation and Skills, with Steve Hilton breathing down their necks. (Hilton is rumoured to have actually said the words “I’ve seen the future and it’s in Shoreditch.”)
American Wired is a cultural artefact – it transcribes a particular culture (mostly Silicon Valley) and zealously sells it to a global subculture of enthusiasts. Its prophets and disciples, some of whom refer to themselves without irony as ‘technology evangelists’, see their job as saving souls, converting others to their particular worldview. Actor Network Theorists would not be surprised. The evangelists are doing a version of ‘heterogenous engineering’. Technology, as much as anything, does not speak for itself. Its future users need to be defined, enrolled, tamed to fit the innovation in question.
There are books to be written (probably have been. Anyone?) about the religious threads woven through US science policy. Geneticist and devout christian Francis Collins was a convenient choice to lead the Human Genome Project and the National Institutes of Health. Influential policy reports about nano– and converging technologies are almost transcendental. And lets not get started on the Singularity…
In the UK, we like our technology how we like out ministry – quiet, reliable, with tea and cakes. This is why UK Wired doesn’t work for me. It’s like Billy Graham rocking up to St Winifred’s Chigwell. But maybe this is actually what we need more of. As Anglican congregations shrivel and urban evangelical stadium worship booms, maybe we should all follow the hypesters.