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Just One Question for David Hudson
Apr 29, 1998 :: Michael Sippey

I remember the first time I saw David Hudson's Rewired. "Damn," I thought to myself, "he's one-upped me." A fit of jealous rage kept me from emailing David words of praise...for about three days.

You see, David's writing inspires. Reading an essay on Rewired, or a story for Spiegel, or a post to a mailing list, you quickly come to realize that David never writes from the hip -- his prose is always measured, thoughtful and clear. Yet he always manages to weave in a personal point of view, something that so much technology writing is sadly missing.

I forget, sometimes, that David lives in Berlin. He's as connected to the news sources of the Valley and the Alley as anyone I know, and can sling gossip and innuendo with the best of them. But the ex-pat Berliner in him comes through when you he dollops a healthy dose of skepticism on the Wired readership, the Technorealists or the Californian Ideologists. Like the Berlin itself, he has mastered the art of being the inside outsider...

David recently took time out of his busy schedule to answer just one question...

MS: Does the German mainstream press "get" the 'net?

DWH: Probably no more or no less than the US mainstream press at this point. In both countries, you have your savvy and your goofy journalists, but I also get the impression that goofiness is less and less tolerated all around.

A smaller percentage of the population is online in Germany than in the US, but the journalists themselves, especially in the print media, are online and have been for quite a while. It's been interesting to watch coverage of the Net in both countries spread from the specialty magazines, radio and television programs, and so on out into mainstream media.

Remember how, just a few years ago, every article in any daily paper that mentioned the Web had to explain what the damn thing was before getting into the actual story? At some point, those explanations were dropped, and I think that point was at about the same time in both countries. By now, even those Germans that aren't online, for whatever reason -- cost or just plain not interested -- know what a Web site looks like and what getting email means.

This is the interesting difference between Germany and the US, I think. The Net takes up about as much "media space" in Germany as it does in the US, yet there aren't as many Germans by far actually online. Why this is, I can't really say. Are German journalists actively campaigning to get more Germans online, or do they simply feel that when Microsoft does this or an innovative net.artist does that, they're obligated to report it -- since the Net is assumed to be the inevitable future? And are German readers, listeners and viewers more accustomed to using the media to experience "where the action is" vicariously than those in the US?

Pardon my digression, but this is on my mind at the moment. I'm reading a thin, not so terrifically written but nonetheless interesting book by Ralph Willett called The Americanization of Germany, 1945 - 1949. The extent to which Germans in the western sectors were essentially taught to look to the US for each and every way to run a country, a society and its media after WWII turns out to be profound and profoundly disturbing.

To steer this somewhat back to your question, though, one of the issues buzzing in the air over here as late as last year was, Where is the German Wired? Not that the Germans were hungry for the brand of technolibertarian hype of Wired's earlier years -- they certainly weren't. But rather, they were asking, Where is the media entity that addresses the changes new technologies are bringing about with the depth, pizzazz and authority of Wired in the US?

Well, that question isn't being asked anymore. Just as in the US, the answer lies in the mainstream press itself; as well as in any number of daily papers and monthly or quarterly magazines in print or on radio or television that have suddenly sprung up over the past several months. I've written about Konr@d and Der Spiegel's special issues on all things digital in Rewired, and rarely does a week go by without Der Spiegel itself reporting at least one Net story or another.

And last Friday saw the debut of another, Econy, a "business on the move" sort of magazine with an absolutely killer design. Seriously. Some people think it's a bit on the cold side, but I think, especially given Konr@d's perpetuation of this idea that the future will be psychedelic, Econy's chill is just the right medicine.

At any rate, again, this is a business magazine, and the Net is simply part of the package, as it is in, say, Business Week. The cover story's on Compunet founder Jost Stollman, you've got your Freeman Dyson interview, and so on. So the German press not only "gets" the Net, but there's also a general tendency toward covering Germany's own role in its culture. Konr@d was named after Konrad Zuse, for example, and in general, the perception that the Net is somehow "over there" is fading; it's part of daily life here, too, now, or so the media would have it.

 

 

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