Optimism or Boosterism? Early Days of Technology Coverage

Wired was criticized early on for its boosterism and its agnostic stance toward politics. Communications professor and former journalist Fred Turner, in his book From Counterculture to Cyberculture, details how Stewart Brand and Kevin Kelly blurred the lines between traditional journalism and ego-centric thought leadership without a sense of duty to a code of journalistic ethics or objectivity.22 Turner writes: “Kelly meant for Wired to be a forum for the various networks in which he circulated . . . He thought of himself as ‘a convener of interesting ideas’—much like a conference host on The WELL. His job, he thought, was to stir up conversations and print them. For this reason, Kelly often allowed traditional professional boundaries to dissolve.”23

As early as 1994, The Baffler tackled Wired’s thinly veiled gadget advertorials: “Wired is technology’s hip face, an aggressive apologist for the new Information capitalism that speaks to the world in the postmodern executive’s favored tones of chaotic cool and pseudo-revolution.”24

Leading technology commentators extolled the new access to information and platforms, celebrating their potential for advancing democracy and empowering people. Much of that enthusiasm spread from Silicon Valley into the academy and beyond. Positive messages of change were distilled into fifteen- to eighteen-minute presentations for TED conferences, turning them into “ideas worth spreading” and generating books and other media to go along with them.25 The dominant narrative around technology exuded optimism.

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