Net Nothingness

All the evidence suggests that open season has been declared for
Wired-bashing. After a two year honeymoon of glowing accolades and
journalism awards, the arbiters of the zeitgeist have come under heavy
fire in the past few months. The savvy folks at the Baffler lambasted
Wired’s abject gadget fetishism in their March issue, and FEED contributor
Gary Chapman has launched a one-man campaign against the magazine’s
cooler-than-thou corporatism in the pages of The New Republic and in a
blistering exchange in the Club Wired chatroom on the Hotwired site.
(Check out Louis Rossetto’s inscrutable attempt to cast Gary as a
dyed-in-the-wool Hubert Humphrey supporter.) We’re somewhat ambivalent
about the backlash against Wired, since most of us read it devoutly. But a
recent installment in their Idees Fortes section frankly makes our hair
stand on end.

In a short polemic innocuously titled “Net Access for Next to Nothing,”
Sandy Sandfort and Duncan Frissell argue against proposals for government
subsidies for Net access with a home-brewed recipe for cheap access to the
Net. Their prescription: a used XT with no hard drive, a 2400 baud modem,
and a bares-bones e-mail and Usenet account. If that’s too pricey, they
offer a bargain basement deal of a Commodore 64, a black-and-white TV, and
a 300 baud modem. Total cost: under 50 bucks. As a cost-cutting,
do-it-yourself Popular Mechanics riff, Sandfort and Frissell’s advice has a
certain flair to it. But as a policy statement it’s a laugher. Consider
their closing argument:

This is the kind of rhetoric that makes Gingrich’s “let them eat laptops”
gaff look downright sensible. The basic argument is this: poor people
simply don’t want to be on the Net, because if they did, they’d be out
there snapping up those Commodore 64s in droves. If you’re less than
enamored at the prospect of surfing the Net (well, not the Net exactly,
but e-mail and Usenet) at 300 baud, you obviously aren’t really interested
in cyberspace at all. And the solution: better marketing, of course. Run
enough of those AT&T; “You Will” ads and you’ll convince people to jerry-rig
those second-hand XTs into shape–while they dream luxurious dreams of
sending faxes from the beach. Who needs government subsidies with this
lavish fare?

— S.J. (May, 1995)

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