"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 15 December 1995. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Dystopian Utopia


[A Thousand Words]


A hoax wrapped in a conspiracy

bundled with a headache. An

elaborately ironic troll

designed to baffle readers and

provoke hastefully-conceived

fury. How else could we explain

the strangely mock-Luddite

essays currently gracing the

features section of Word? Word,

the download-defying eighth

wonder of the local-demo world

has always struck us as a

prosaic response to the

rhetorical question, "If a

picture's worth a thousand

words, what's a picture of a

thousand words worth?" But

apparently, there's more to Word

than meets the eye.


[Utopia Redux]

Take cover feature "Utopia

Redux", which is nothing if not

a recapitulation of one our

favorite episodes of Gilligan's

Island. You may recall it: a

pair of Soviet cosmonauts,

having crash-landed on The

Island, find themselves

stupefied by the antics of

Gilligan. As they observe his

shenanigans, they're forced to

wonder if a human could really

be that stupid, and conclude

that, in fact, Gilligan must be

their undercover contact -

cleverly disguised as an




Who is Karrie Jacobs? Sure, we

know who she claims to be: the

skeptical technocynic "writer at

large" for the NY-based elitist

architecture rag, Metropolis.

The by-the-recipe, half-baked

rants against technology are

almost believable placed in the

context of articles trumpeting

"maverick approach(es) to...

capacious, light-filled office

design." But as an essayist for

Word, the author's writing seems

more like an example of double

détournement, where instead of

functioning as the antithesis of

quotation, it actually affirms

the very concepts it attempts to




We'll admit that our gut reaction

to the extensive quoting of

Kelly, Rossetto, et. al., the

obligatory reference to

Fruitopia as Apocalyptic

Horseman #4, and the

pret-a-sucer "hucksterism" quips

was to dismiss the whole project

as yet another cynical net

naysaying cash-in. But once we

scraped off the patina of

technophobia, a more insidious

notion struck us: could this

piece, so adroitly bereft of

insight and so masterfully

inappropriate for the medium, be

a devious collaborative scheme

on the parts of the

aforementioned cybervisionaries

to subtly reinforce their

credentials as prophets of the

digital age?



Surely an essay flatly denying

the concept that the net might

create a "redistribution of

power" presented center stage as

a feature on one of the net's

most popular upstart magazines,

designed and edited by a staff

largely comprised of women,

smacks of farce. Whether it

serves any real purpose (beyond

providing a buffer between

Netscape and Sun banners)

vis-à-vis its editorial

viewpoint, Word has more of a

voice on the net than John

Dvorak and Glenn Davis combined.

If Word was a newsstand

magazine, the only audience it

would likely have is that of a

Jacoby & Myers's bankruptcy




And the form of the

Netscape-sponsored piece,

denouncing the net as a utopia

"thoroughly degraded and

commercialized," while rife with

cliché accusations of being run

by "rich white men" and

"dominated by big corporations"

could hardly be conceived sans

subterfuge, nor digested without

ironic appreciation. Our first

clue as to the real meaning of

things comes when Wired's

Scenarios is invoked as an

artifact of this imbalance,

ostensibly as a blithe put-down:

it's a few screens later that

the author engages in an addled

rumination on the

"standardizing" effect of net

communication that "parcels all

aspects of our lives... into

rectangles of text or image."

The only question that remains

is who might be the chief

culprit behind this prank: John

Perry Barlow or Bruce Sterling?



The answer, we suspect, is all of

the above. The final

confirmation of our suspicions

comes in the form of an

incomprehensible aside on the

feds on the net - touting the

bust of "six hackers" by the

Secret Service (get it?) as

proof that The Man is lurking

"on this side of the computer

screen." Could it be spelled out

with any more clarity? The

"secret six" who ghost-authored

this situationist ploy are

actually a consortium of nervous

Wired editors who, fearing


obsolescence, have concocted a

convenient straw man target upon

which attacks will have the

side-effect of validating their

original patchouli-reeking,



courtesy of the Duke of URL