“Distribute power as widely and irretrievably as possible”

From Danny O’Brien’s 1997 email describing a trip to SF to meet Louis Rossetto, founder of Wired magazine. At the time Danny and Tony worked on Wired’s UK edition, as did I.

                                                                – * –

San Francisco is such an optimistic town, and, while Wired itself is actually a pretty mundane place to visit, its very ordinariness filled me, briefly, with the belief that Wired UK was possible. I loved meeting these people, loved the culture they sought to represent. It was only on the flight back that I got worried.

On that flight, I got into a blazing row with Tony Ageh; the only row that I've ever had with him. Tony isn't efficient. He's not really wired. But he's a very charismatic man, and I'd say a visionary too; he's easily a match for Louis in that.

We were talking about something that Louis had said, something that made Tony uncomfortable. Louis had talked about Wired being for 'the digerati' - 'guys who'd been teased at school for being geeks, and who are now earning millions while their schoolmates flip burgers'. Wired UK, Tony insisted, was going to be for everyone - even the burger flippers. I stuck to the Louis line. I said, these people are defining the future - you've got to write a magazine for them. So why, said, Tony, can't everyone define the future? Isn't that what it's really about - everyone at last, defining their own future? Can't this magazine help create a place where everyone can take these tools and use them for themselves?

What Louis is doing, he said, smacks of revenge - of comeuppance. He's turning a global change into a vengeance tale. And so it went on, me insisting the value of representing the thoughts of the wired, Tony claiming that the function of any magazine he produced was to distribute power as widely and irretrievably as possible. We almost literally came to blows, rocking and pushing on the plane even though we were only an armrest away. The argument was never resolved; eventually we fell asleep, awkward and furious.

Hours later, I woke up. We were above the Arctic, and through the frosted porthole, I watched the Northern Lights, something I had dreamed of seeing since I was a child. I didn't wake Tony. I made him miss it all.

                          - * -

 

Whenever I hear that most duplicitous of phrases “the sharing economy“, I think of Tony Ageh and his vision for digital technologies designed to distribute, not concentrate, power.

Sadly, he was right about the revenge of the West Coast digerati. Code and capital begat power. And power duly corrupted.

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