The Technium

Predicting the Present, First Five Years of Wired

Image from Mark Higgison

I was digging through some files the other day and found this document from 1997. It gathers a set of quotes from issues of Wired magazine in its first five years. I don’t recall why I created this (or even if I did compile all of them), but I suspect it was for our fifth anniversary issue. I don’t think we ever ran any of it. Reading it now it is clear that all predictions of the future are really just predictions of the present. If I were compiling this list today instead of in 1998, I would have selected much different insights.

Here is the 1998 document in full:

We as a culture are deeply, hopelessly, insanely in love with gadgetry. And you can’t fight love and win.
Jaron Lanier, Wired 1.02, May/June 1993, p. 80

No class in history has ever risen as fast as the blue-collar worker and no class has ever fallen as fast.
Peter Drucker, Wired 1.03, Jul/Aug 1993, p. 80

In the world of immersion, authorship is no longer the transmission of experience, but rather the construction of utterly personal experiences.
Brenda Laurel, Wired 1.06, Dec 1993, p. 107

I expect that within the next five years more than one in ten people will wear head-mounted computer displays while traveling in buses, trains, and planes.
Nicholas Negroponte, Wired 1.06, Dec 1993, p. 136

Pretty soon you’ll have no more idea of what computer you’re using than you have an idea of where your electricity is generated.
Danny Hillis, Wired 2.01, Jan 1994, p. 103

If we’re ever going to make a thinking machine, we’re going to have to face the problem of being able to build things that are more complex than we can understand.
Danny Hillis, Wired 2.01, Jan 1994, p. 104

Computers are the metaphor of our time.
Jim Metzner, Wired 2.02, Feb 1994, p. 66

Yesterday, we changed the channel; today we hit the remote; tomorrow, we’ll reprogram our agents/filters. Advertising will not go away; it will be rejuvenated.
Michael Schrage, Wired 2.02, Feb 1994, p. 73

The scarce resource will not be stuff, but point of view.
Paul Saffo, Wired 2.03, Mar 1994, p. 73

The idea of Apple making a $200 anything was ridiculous to me. Apple couldn’t make a $200 blank disk.
Bill Atkinson, Wired 2.04, Apr 1994, p. 104

Roadkill on the information highway will be the billions who will forget there are offramps to destinations other than Hollywood, Las Vegas, the local bingo parlor, or shiny beads from a shopping network.
Alan Kay, Wired 2.05, May 1994, p. 77

The future is bullshit.
Jay Chiat, Wired 2.07, Jul 1994, p. 84

Money is just a type of information, a pattern that, once digitized, becomes subject to persistent programmatic hacking by the mathematically skilled.
Kevin Kelly, Wired 2.07, Jul 1994, p. 93

In a world where information plus technology equals power, those who control the editing rooms run the show.
Hugh Gallagher, Wired 2.08, Aug 1994, p. 86

Some functions require domesticated robots — wild robots that have been bribed, tricked, or evolved into household roles. But the wild robot has to come first.
Mark Tilden, Wired 2.09, Sep 1994, p. 107

Immortality is mathematical, not mystical.
Mike Perry, Wired 2.10, Oct 1994, p. 105

As the world becomes more universal, it also becomes more tribal. Holding on to what distinguishes you from others becomes very important.
John Naisbitt, Wired 2.10, Oct 1994, p. 115

Marc Andreessen will tell you with a straight face that he expects Mosaic Communications’s Mosaic to become the world’s standard interface to electronic information.
Gary Wolf, Wired 2.10, Oct 1994, p. 116

Life is not going to be easy in the 21st century for people who insist on black-and-white descriptions of reality.
Joel Garreau, Wired 2.11, Nov 1994, p. 158

Take Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. In mere seconds, you get an entire war — the strategy, the attack, the retreat, the recapitulation. The whole military-industrial complex is reduced to a bunny and a stuttering guy zipping across the landscape.
Brian Boigon, Wired 2.12, Dec 1994, p. 94

The very distinction between original and copy becomes meaningless in a digital world — there the work exists only as a copy.
Daniel Pierehbech, Wired 2.12, Dec 1994, p. 158

It’s hard to predict this stuff. Say you’d been around in 1980, trying to predict the PC revolution. You never would’ve come and seen me.
Bill Gates, Wired 2.12, Dec 1994, p. 166

For a long time now, America has seemed like a country where most people watch television most of the time. But only recently are we beginning to notice that it is also a country where television watches us.
Phil Petton, Wired 3.01, Jan 1995, p. 126

What gives humans access to the symbolic domain of value and meaning is the fact that we die.
Regis Debray, Wired 3.01, Jan 1995, p. 162

The scary thing isn’t that computers will match our intelligence by 2008; the scary thing is that this exponential curve keeps on going, and going, and going.
Greg Blonder, Wired 3.03, Mar 1995, p. 107

The future won’t be 500 channels — it will be one channel, your channel.
Scott Sassa, Wired 3.03, Mar 1995, p. 113

In the future, you won’t buy artists’ works; you’ll buy software that makes original pieces of “their” works, or that recreates their way of looking at things.
Brian Eno, Wired 3.05, May 1995, p. 150

It’s important to regard technology in the long sweep of history as being one with history.
Vernor Vinge, Wired 3.06, Jun 1995, p. 161

Sufficiently radical optimism — optimism that more and more seems to be technically feasible — raises the most fundamental questions about consciousness, identity, and desire.
Vernor Vinge, Wired 3.06, Jun 1995, p. 161

I believe human nature is vastly more conservative than human technologies.
Newt Gingrich, Wired 3.08, Aug 1995, p. 109

We’re using tools with unprecedented power, and in the process, we’re becoming those tools.
John Brockman, Wired 3.08, Aug 1995, p. 119

If the Boeing 747 obeyed Moore’s Law, it would travel a million miles an hour, it would be shrunken down in size, and a trip to New York would cost about five dollars.
Nathan Myrhvold, Wired 3.09, Sep 1995, p. 154

Isn’t it odd how parents grieve if their child spends six hours a day on the Net but delight if those same hours are spent reading books?
Nicholas Negroponte, Wired 3.09, Sep 1995, p. 206

The human spirit is infinitely more complex than anything that we’re going to be able to create in the short run. And if we somehow did create it in the short run, it would mean that we aren’t so complex after all, and that we’ve all been tricking ourselves.
Douglas Hofstadter, Wired 3.11, Nov 1995, p. 114

What the Net is, more than anything else at this point, is a platform for entrepreneurial activities — a free-market economy in its truest sense.
Marc Andreessen, Wired 3.12, Dec 1995, p. 236

3-D isn’t an interface paradigm. 3-D isn’t a world model. 3-D isn’t the missing ingredient. 3-D is an attribute, like the color blue.
F. Randall Farmer, Wired 4.01, Jan 1996, p. 117

Without a deep understanding of the many selves that we express in the virtual, we cannot use our experiences there to enrich the real.
Sherry Turkle, Wired 4.01, Jan 1996, p. 199

The annoyance caused by spammers grows as the square of the size of the Net.
Ray Jones, Wired 4.02, Feb 1996, p. 96

We’re born, we live for a brief instant, and we die. It’s been happening for a long time. Technology is not changing it much — if at all.
Steve Jobs, Wired 4.02, Feb 1996, p. 106-107

Just as there is religious fundamentalism, there is a technical fundamentalism.
Paul Virilio, Wired 4.05, May 1996, p. 121

When I want to do something mindless to relax, I reinstall Windows 95.
Jean-Louis Gassee, Wired 4.05, May 1996, p. 190

It is doubtful that the [computer industry] as a whole has yet broken even.
Peter Drucker, Wired 4.08, Aug 1996, p. 116

The most successful innovators are the creative imitators, the Number Two.
Peter Drucker, Wired 4.08, Aug 1996, p. 118

We have a predisposition in Western culture for “just do it,” whereas, I think that part of the future will be built much more around “just be it.”
Watts Wacker, Wired 4.09, Sep 1996, p. 168

Revolutions aren’t made by gadgets and technology. They’re made by a shift in power, which is taking place all over the world.
Walter Wriston, Wired 4.10, Oct 1996, p. 205

Wires warp cyberspace. The two points at opposite ends of a wire are, for informational purposes, the same point, even if they are on opposite sides of the planet.
Neal Stephenson, Wired 4.12, Dec 1996, p. 98

The Web is alive. Not as a sentient being or mega-meta-super-collective consciousness, but more like a gigantic, sprouting slime mold.
Steven Alan Edwards, Wired 5.04, Apr 1997

Of all the prospects raised by the evolution of digital culture, the most tantalizing is the possibility that technology could fuse with politics to create a more civil society.
Jon Katz, Wired 5.04, Apr 1997

Technology is not the nameless Other. To embrace technology is to embrace, and face, ourselves.
David Cronenberg, Wired 5.05, May 1997, p. 185

Community precedes commerce.
John Hagel, Wired 5.08, Aug 1997, p. 84

Modern technology is a major evolutionary transition. It would be astonishing if that occurred without disrupting existing life.
Gregory Stock, Wired 5.09, Sep 1997, p. 128

Pollution is a measure of inefficiency, and inefficiency is lost profit.
Joe Maceda, Wired 5.10, Oct 1997, p. 138

For email, the old postcard rule applies. Nobody else is supposed to read your postcards, but you’d be a fool if you wrote anything private on one.
Miss Manners, Wired 5.11, Nov 1997

The American government can stop me from going to the US, but they can’t stop my virus.
Dark Avenger, Wired 5.11, Nov 1997 (from a side-bar item on p.270 which does not appear in the Wired digital archives, excerpting from an interview by Sarah Gordon)

It is the arrogance of every age to believe that yesterday was calm.
Tom Peters, Wired 5.12, Dec 1997

  • Doctor Doomlove

    Ahh, those heady days of 1990’s dot-com triumphalism — what I wouldn’t give to still believe all that bullshit today!

    There are only two quotes that I really like: “the future is bullshit” and “human nature is vastly more conservative than technology”. The second one is the one to pay attention to — most of these geeks apparently have too little exposure to history, humanities, religion, etc. to fully appreciate the power of conservatism and tradition in human affairs.

    My version of the future, circa 2010, would have pithy quotes about the coming Dark Age, the end of the Enlightenment, climate catastrophe, “peak everything” and the global failure of science and technology to solve our problems. I’ve even thought about starting a magazine called “Doomed” that would discuss these issues as well as hot new trends and technologies of the future like tribalism, barter economics, peasant farming, horsemanship, astrology, alchemy, shamanism and feudalism. Personally I think this sounds like a winner. What do folks here think?

    • @Doomlove. If we are doomed, why bother with a magazine?

  • ljf

    to me this:

    Pretty soon you’ll have no more idea of what computer you’re using than you have an idea of where your electricity is generated.
    Danny Hillis, Wired 2.01, Jan 1994, p. 103

    pretty much sums up cloud computing and the average user – before long we’ll be back to the dumb terminal and the actual ‘computer’ you are using will be an unknown…

  • Andrew White

    I was 15 or 16, working at a book store, and the second WIRED showed up. I bought almost every one up until I graduated from university. Years one through four were very visionary, particularly for someone who couldn’t afford to add the gopher package to his monthly ISP bill. Sorry, actually: BBS.

    Went pretty downhill from there. Kinda sad to see what it’s become.

    I often wish I could recapture those days, and that feeling, like when I actually cared about things like “technoshamanism” and tried desperately to parse Donna Haraway and Marshal McLuhan.

  • Crystal Henson

    Thanks for the quotes. I was only a freshman in high school when I first came across Wired magazine (this was around 1994-95), and I remember the buzz created around the publication. It was like a how-to manual for the future.

    Greg Blonder’s quote that “The scary thing isn’t that computers will match our intelligence by 2008; the scary thing is that this exponential curve keeps on going, and going, and going.” While the realization of AI isn’t fully realized, the exponential nature of computer processing and knowledge found on the Internet are the foundations of technology as we know it today.

    Who knows where we’ll be in another 10, 20 years.

    One thing’s for certain: Wired magazine won’t be distributed in its current format. It will be interesting to see how such a “progressive” tech publication will evolve.

  • Tony

    To me, Danny Hillis’ quote re: not knowing what computer you’re using is happening today; many people use the web and use some emedded webpage functionality (flash, java, js, php) and aren’t aware that there is another computer sometimes generating the content and sometimes pushing the calculations on to your machine.

  • Sam Humphries

    Great list. Although to be fair to Greg Blonder and his prediction about computer intelligence, the original article seems to say 2088, not 2008. He’s still got 78 years to be proven wrong.

  • Andrew

    On this whole list, just TWO women? (Ok, Miss Manners too, though is that even a real person?) And I’d wager that every person on the list is white. That was the future you wanted in 1995?

    • @Andrew: Who said these were descriptions of a desirable future?

  • Robert MacEwan

    If memory serves me it was Marc’s comments about the browser becoming the OS of the future that set Microsoft on its path to Internet dominance. Marc was right. Microsoft still doesn’t “get it”.

  • Steven Hales

    “I always avoid prophesying beforehand because it is much better to prophesy after the event has already taken place. ”
    –Winston Churchill

  • PaulD

    It is ironic that a man whose life was later saved by a liver transplant was quoted as saying that technology hasn’t done much to extend life…

  • Mark

    Hi Kevin, I’ve loved Wired all these long years!

    Any chance of attributing the photo you’ve used? It looks to be this one from my flickr: … a link to my blog and the post I took this image for would be even sweeter:

    It would mean a lot. Cheers and best wishes!

  • David


    Just read a talk by William Gibson. It reminded me of this post, thought you might be intersted…

    “Alvin Toffler warned us about Future Shock, but is this Future Fatigue? For the past decade or so, the only critics of science fiction I pay any attention to, all three of them, have been slyly declaring that the Future is over. I wouldn’t blame anyone for assuming that this is akin to the declaration that history was over, and just as silly. But really I think they’re talking about the capital-F Future, which in my lifetime has been a cult, if not a religion. People my age are products of the culture of the capital-F Future. The younger you are, the less you are a product of that. If you’re fifteen or so, today, I suspect that you inhabit a sort of endless digital Now, a state of atemporality enabled by our increasingly efficient communal prosthetic memory. I also suspect that you don’t know it, because, as anthropologists tell us, one cannot know one’s own culture.

    The Future, capital-F, be it crystalline city on the hill or radioactive post-nuclear wasteland, is gone. Ahead of us, there is merely…more stuff. Events. Some tending to the crystalline, some to the wasteland-y. Stuff: the mixed bag of the quotidian.

    Please don’t mistake this for one of those “after us, the deluge” moments on my part. I’ve always found those appalling, and most particularly when uttered by aging futurists, who of all people should know better. This newfound state of No Future is, in my opinion, a very good thing. It indicates a kind of maturity, an understanding that every future is someone else’s past, every present someone else’s future. Upon arriving in the capital-F Future, we discover it, invariably, to be the lower-case now.”

  • gwern

    It would be interesting to track some of these people’s latter-day unexpired predictions. Did they learn humility from their failed predictions here?