Surveying the turbulent, early-industrial landscape of England in the 1830s,
Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote: “Every age may be called an age of transition
— the passage from one state to another never ceases. But in our age the
transition is visible.” It’s a remark that would go without saying in
today’s society, where the sheer velocity of technological change has
become a slogan and a sales-pitch, echoing through the furthest reaches of
the mediasphere. Open up your daily paper’s business section or flip
through any of the bubbly entertainment rags, and you’ll read about
paradigms being shattered, old forms giving way to the new, “interactive
multimedia” ushering its sluggish, page-bound ancestors to the ash-heap of
historical irrelevance. Even the austere halls of Congress are prone to
this revolutionary language, as Newt Gingrich waxes cyber-philosophical
about the rising Third Wave information society. On every corner in cyberia
someone breathlessly announces the latest and greatest digital advance,
guaranteed to finish off, for once and for all, the tired analog behemoths
still lumbering among us.

The growing appetite for forced obsolescence has created an entire cottage
industry of armchair McLuhans, clamoring to announce the demise of some
withering, old-fashioned medium and the birth of the Next Big Thing. It’s a
tellingly binary mindset — cultural analysis as a giant on/off switch.
You’re either tired or wired, atoms or bits, analog or digital. If you find
yourself languishing on the wrong side of the divide, you might as well
pack up that manual typewriter and prepare to go the way of the punch card
and the vacuum tube.

Machines and revolutionaries, of course, have had a long and volatile
courtship. Karl Marx famously described the dizzying advances of
industrialization as “an anarchy of permanent revolution.” Writing on the
eve of World War I, the Italian poet Filippo Marinetti called for a
re-invention of language itself, searching for a new grammar that would
effectively capture the terrible velocity of the machine gun and the
airplane. “Every noun should have its double,” he wrote, cryptically, “that
is, the noun should be followed, with no conjunction, by the noun to which
it is related by analogy. Example: man-torpedo-boat.”

The difference today is that the revolutionary calls-to-arms are
increasingly scripted by Madison Avenue. Radical departures are heralded in
AT&T; advertisements or in the pages of Wired magazine. Denouncing the
Second Wave is now a marketing strategy and a campaign soundbite.
Marinetti’s “man-torpedo-boat” has been replaced by the
“man-cellular-modem-fax-machine” hybrids of modern consumerism. All of
which suggests that Gingrich’s pet philosopher Alvin Toffler may have got
it the wrong way round: we’re not suffering from future shock; we’re
suffering from something else, a future fixation where every new gadget
triggers wild fantasies of cultural revolution. Under this spell of innovation,
we’ll happily abandon any older tradition in the name of the new media,
even if that means throwing some heavyweight babies out with the bathwater.

At first glance, the magazine you’re currently reading would seem to play
into the take-no-prisoners mentality of contemporary technoculture. FEED,
after all, is a creature of the World Wide Web, born and bred in the binary
soup of zeroes and ones. We’ve designed FEED from the ground up to
accomodate the new possibilities of the Web. Each article here is a working
example of hypertext, with associative links to other FEED articles and
sites scattered across the Web. Our Document section explores the
possibilities of hypertext in ways that would be almost impossible in the
traditional print medium. FEED Dialogs follow the “electronic town hall”
model: a panel of experts debates the issues of the day, responding to the
input of FEED readers as the conversation unfolds. Our stories are laced
with sound files and video clips in proper multimedia fashion. And every
article on the FEED site is linked to a threaded bulletin board system,
where readers can hash out the issues amongst themselves, creating an
open-ended conversation that grows with each new posting.

In other words, we’re firm believers in the promise of the new media. But
that promise has its limits. We’re not inclined to see FEED as a paradigm
shift or a radical break with tradition. Cultural forms, after all, rarely
progress in such sudden, dramatic stages. (Think of the way television
borrowed from the codes and conventions of the radio broadcast.) We prefer
to think of FEED in evolutionary terms: an older organism finds itself
transplanted into a new environment, and adapts to that environment in
various ways — but still retains much of its original shape. You can’t
just drop a page-bound magazine into cyberspace and expect nothing to
change. But neither can you throw away the centuries of development that
produced modern journalism: from the acerbic barbs of Addison and Steele,
to home-brewed feuilletons of the 19th century, to the glossy mags of
today.

Overnight paradigm shifts make for good copy in today’s accelerated
society, but they’re anomalies in cultural history. The novel, for
instance, took hundreds of years to reach a coherent shape. Seen from this
perspective, the current frenzy to re-invent journalism from scratch looks
like a dangerous mix of unchecked hubris and cultural amnesia. In the
evolutionary model, dramatic mutations in the genetic code tend to be fatal
for the organism. The significant advances all arise through small-scale
adaptations, the measured trial-and-error of natural selection. Despite the
dizzying pace of modern technological change, this evolutionary principle
should still apply to the innovations of the new media.

That’s why we’ve tried to build on the tradition of print journalism, and
not simply disavow it. We’ve placed a strong emphasis on quality content,
and we’ve put together a compelling mix of established and up-and-coming
writers for this first issue. We’re working under the assumption that an
audience exists for writing that goes beyond Net gossip or online
promotions. That means sacrificing the “quick fix” sensibility that
dominates much of the Web at present. And it means retaining some semblance
of linear development in our articles. We’re trying to take on some serious
issues here, issues that don’t easily reduce down to paragraph-long
infobytes or the forking paths of non-linear prose.

Like much of the Web to date, FEED is an ongoing experiment. We’re still
learning the ropes of this new medium, and we expect to make mistakes along
the way. But that’s the beauty of evolution: it’s an ongoing process,
subject to all sorts of false starts and happy accidents. We’re relying on
you to let us know what you like about the site, and what you could do
without. Send us feedback at [email protected].

Bon Appetit!