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tv   The Communicators Louis Rossetto  CSPAN  August 31, 2018 10:34pm-11:02pm EDT

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public service by america's cable television companies. today, we continue to bring you congress, coverage of the white house, the supreme court, and public policy events in washington dc and around the country. c-span is brought to you by your cable or satellite provider. peter: so, louis rossetto, when did you found "wired" magazine? louis: my partner, jane metcalfe and i started "wired" project in 1991 and launched into the american market in january of 1993 as bill clinton was taking over as president of the united states. notably, al gore was talking about the information super highway. it was a generational change that was occurring on the political level and for -- on the larger scale on the cultural , technological level there was
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a massive revolution going on. peter: do you remember in that first issue what some of the articles were? what some of the products were that you were talking about? louis: we had camile paglia in an interview with stewart brand talking about technology, talking about culture. we had a story about japanese otaku, who are obsessive japanese young men basically who go crazy -- go very deep dive into obscure or weird little subcultures. we had a story on education. how american education was the last soviet left on the planet. it is all organized locally and yet the results are abysmal.
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at that time, gross spending was was on the order of $500 billion. we had a broad collection of stories, trying to capture the people, companies, and ideas that were driving the digital revolution as we saw it at that time. peter: why did you get fired from the magazine that you founded? louis: i always considered myself a troublemaker. the magazine we started, it grew to be a $50 million business by the time we were fired. we did not just make a magazine, we started making a magazine. what we were writing about was a revolution in media. we were not simply observers, but participants in that revolution. we started the first website
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that had original content and fortune 500 advertising in 1994. we grew that at the time, it had like 90% of eyeballs on the web. we were the first and best at it. we grew a business that was larger than yahoo!, excite, and infoseek at the time. it was a business that required investment, it was a whole new sector for us in an expanding universe. so we went out to finance that through private and then tried to go public to support that growth enterprise for our business. in the process we ended up getting investors who did not have the patience or foresight to understand the opportunity that they were getting involved with. in the end, it was a conflict between us as the visionaries
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and managers versus people who could only see immediate return. in the end, they ended up basically liquidating our company. they sold the magazine, they sold the online business, they made a lot of money. everybody involved made a lot of money. it was like they sold, as far as i'm concerned, too early. they sold in 1997 -- rather in 1998-1999 and that was just the beginning of the .com boom. if they waited another year they probably could've doubled, tripled, or quadrupled their money. that would have been the wrong thing to do because we would have been major players in the new world that was arriving with the internet and the web. peter: "wired" is still a major force in the technological world today, isn't it?
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louis: these guys who sold "wired" were so dumb that they broke the company into two pieces. they sold the digital properties to lycos and sold the traditional media property, books and magazines, to conde nast. peter: which was more valuable at the time? louis: the magazine sold for $95 million. the digital properties, which were the ones that were lossmaking but which were going to clearly be the future of media, they went for $295 million. their bet was basically -- anyway without getting back into that, why did we get fired? we had a different view of what was going to happen. peter: what are you doing today? louis: today, i guess i am going back to what i was when i first got out of school, which was a writer and a novelist.
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after i got done with wired, lots of people came up to me and said you should do the story of "wired," you should do the story of that time. it was such a painful and weird experience that i needed to get away from it and i did not want to relive it. i did want to tell the story of that time. the times were just amazing. "wired" was the first draft of history of the digital revolution. we were watching a society go through insane transformation. it is hard to imagine, back when we started "wired" there were 20 million computers connected to the internet. the internet was like a private club for certain people. now there are 3 billion people connected to the internet. everybody has a supercomputer in their pocket. between that time, the economy and every aspect of our life has been changed. we were trying to capture that in the pages of "wired."
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i was witness to it and we were players in it as well with the development of our online business. the 1990's themselves were about creating this revolution. they were a period of utopianism. it began with something like the writing of the end of history as if there would never be any more history after the collapse of the soviet union and the triumph of liberal democracies. no more history of bad things. all we need to do is focus on the possibilities of reimagining our world. everything was possible. new technologies were coming along that were putting enormous power into hands of individuals and leaching them out of the big organizations and institutions. anybody could become a publisher. anybody could start a business. they had all of these powerful
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things of that they could work with. they had networks that they could connect to. meanwhile, it is like the mission of "wired" and the mission of these people that we were living among, kevin kelly describes their mission as to travel to a new land over the horizon called the future. and to come back with fresh kill for the human race. that is what we were reporting on. that was the attitude of the young people, the 25-year-olds that were running around and building these new companies and basically creating the world that we know now. everything that we know now was done by these kids. if you ask people today where it came from and what it was like, they are more inclined to think it was always what it is now.
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and it was always predestined to be that. as if there was no risk involved. as if everything was just going to happen. these big companies were going to emerge and effortlessly transform everything. instead, it was like being with lewis and clark, discovering the louisiana purchase. you are out there in this wild adventure where disaster lurks everywhere and bears, and waterfalls, and indians were ready to shoot you. you were not trying to invent anything, you were just trying to discover what does this all mean. what is really here, what can we really do? at the end now, 25 years later we know how these stories turned out. at the time it was dramatic. i am trying to with "change is
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good" capture that story of those young people as they really lived in. peter: you mentioned "change is good" that is the story you have told in novel form of that era. i want to show the audience what this looks like. here is the title of the book "change is good" you have a slip cover here, subtitled the story from the heroic era of the internet. as we talk i want to get this out, this is pretty impressive. this is german engineering, isn't it? louis: when we made "wired" we tried to do the best we could possibly do with the print medium. we did a six color printing when it most magazines did four. we did special papers. we did fluorescent and a metallic inks. i tried to exploit the median to its maximum every time i have done stuff. in this case, i worked with my
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best buddy, eric speakerman, who is a design god in germany and around the world. he has made a lot of the typefaces you know and see all over the place, all of the time. he has gotten back to his roots. he started out as a printer. specifically, letterpress, this book is how books used to be manufactured back in the day. this was before offset, which means that they are actually type pressed into paper. letterpress has made a comeback in kind of artisanal form where people are making business cards, they look kind of cool. in fact, it was the way everything was printed until the 1950's. the 1950's change with offset because it was a cheaper, faster way to manufacture. it was almost ok, people could accept it.
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everything went to that. in fact, it is not the best way to read because it is not really black. it is a water-based technology, the type is gray when you look at it. with letterpress, they used to ink the form and they would press on paper. you would end up with a sharp black impression against a white paper. there would be a little slight indentation around the letters which could catch light falling across it, providing a shadow and giving this almost a subconscious sense of depth to what you were reading. that is gone by the board. people don't make letterpress books anymore. eric has developed a new technology for creating plates direct from screen and using the 1950 presses, which were state-of-the-art at the time to
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books economically. this is an expression of the best printing can be in the 21st century. it is recognizing how print is still the best way to read anything. print on paper is still the best way to read, especially things that are complex and require -- and that are long. we tried to make the best possible book that people could delight in it when they got it. not just give them the cheapest piece of junk that they could get away with. peter: we literally have not gotten into the book yet but i have a few more questions. why did you start with kick starter to raise funds for this book and not go through a publisher? louis: i think it is the way i have always thought about doing things. also, a legacy of the digital
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revolution itself which said you could disintermediate all sorts of stuff. that it was taking out layers of hierarchy from whether it is an organization or getting to market. the internet itself, anybody can be a publisher, you just have to plug your server into the internet. kick starter is kind of in that spirit. if you are a creator or a producer you don't need to go to a gatekeeper like an agent or publisher to get your work out to the world. you can just say here i am, i have a story, take a look. you can reach your audience directly. in that spirit, in the original spirit of the internet itself, it was like let's do something that reflected what we can do today, what we can only do in the 21st century way of reaching our audience. we said kick starter was the way we wanted to do this.
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peter: i don't necessarily want to go through the story, louis rossetto in "change is good," i want to use some of the phrases that you have used in the book and i want you to tie those in, if it is applicable to the tech world. number one, change is good. louis: change is good was something we said all the time in the offices at "wired." we were dealing with other media which was obsessed with all the challenges that they were imagining technology was creating. our running joke in the office was what is this week's headline in the "new york times" about internet, threat or menace? there were only negative stories, like it would help you
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cheat on your exams. there would be nothing but pornography or whatever else, they were imagining was going to be the problem. change is bad from their point of view, let's protect our little piece of the world here and the way we think about things from all of the interlopers who are coming to try and take away some of our magic. we were just saying changes good as a reaction to that. i think a general in the korean war said you can look at the world as a problem or an opportunity. i prefer to look at things as opportunities. it was for us to say changes good, so many things have been stuck for so long that any kind of change in them is going to be moving things forward. that is basically the origin.
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peter: in this room, this is tied to the book, you are the most important people in the world, not the popes, not the presidents, not the priests. louis: correct. coming into the 1990's it was after the close of the cold war and a century of conflict and murder. the people responsible for that were the politicians, the priests, and the pundits. we were saying that in contradistinction to that, new people were emerging that had the power to change things themselves, directly without subcontracting it out to other people. they were the people who were creating and using these new technologies. the new technologies were
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personal computing, which started basically in the 1980's, and then networking which is starting to begin gaining traction in the 1990's and exploded with the arrival of the world wide web. we were saying that those people who are creating these technologies were people who were going to have a bigger impact or having a bigger impact on the world than all of the other old establishments before them. people were not looking, they were invisible to the media elites at the time and the political elites at the time. yet, the things that they were inventing were the ones having real, positive change in the world. we were about focusing on those people. holding a mirror up to them because they were not being represented in the world.
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they were often beavering away in silos, unknown to each other. there was also a window that we were trying to hold up to them for everyone else outside who just was not aware of this new, cool, powerful group of people who were having a big impact on the world. peter: everything is going to be new, all of the time. louis: all-new, all the time, that was the 1990's. it was one new surprise coming after another. peter: is that still today? louis: in one area not so much. the things that we were originally covering in the computing and networking, i think a lot of that has already worked itself out and the big established players like facebook, google, and twitter have become the abc, nbc, cbs of our days. they are shaping the public mind in predictable ways.
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nevertheless, there are new revolutions occurring which are as disruptive, or even more disruptive than the digital revolution of the past. there is a neo-biological revolution that is coming, that my partner, jane metcalfe, is focusing on in her media startup called "" which is all about genetic editing and crisper and genomics, etc. there is the block chain, there is space. there is the energy revolution. i'm not just talking about green energy. i'm talking about fracking. i am talking about the move in general from higher carbon to higher hydrogen content in fuels. the new nuclear stuff. there are a bunch of revolutions occurring that are going to have major impact on the society over the rest of this century.
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we are only seeing a little bit of it. all of it is based on the fact that we have computers, sensors, and networks all over the place that are gathering data and doing a big data analysis of it. augmented intelligence as i prefer to call it rather than artificial intelligence is intelligence that we are going to be using to enable us to better perform tasks that we have never been able to do before in collaboration with technology. it is part of the natural evolution of our species to incorporate these new tools in enabling us to do more. peter: another phrase from the book, kill your tv. louis: what has happened to television? exactly. if you are going into the 1990's, television was still a big deal. even cable television even
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though it had supplanted in many ways broadcast television, it was still television. it was a one way and basically uninterruptible delivery of a narrow set of points of view. what ended up happening is all of these people producing, all the people had a new technologies with access to the internet became publishers on their own. you didn't have to go out and break a television. the fact that you are now -- i have rossetto's law of media and that is the consumption of media is a zero sum game. if you are online at dissipating -- if you are online to supporting -- if you are online participating in a discussion
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group or are surfing the web, you are not reading the "new york times." you are not watching abc. you are doing something else. that process of subtracting your attention from old media was part of killing television as we knew it at the time and building a new public space where there were lots of different voices heard that were not there before. peter: one more, the universe believes in encryption. louis: i'm not sure it believes in encryption per se. one of the ideas out there is optimism is warranted. there is a lot of pessimism in the media. the media business in general is about fostering anxiety. it is about making sure you stick around past the next commercial because you have been told that the world is coming to an end and we will tell you about it in 30 seconds. just wait after this commercial.
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or something else like that. there is some horrible thing happening. it is like they are trading in pessimism. actually, we have a lot to be optimistic about. technologies have unleashed a period of boom for the human race. it has been a period for increased freedom for humanity and increased wealth. people are living a longer in general across the planet. people are living longer, better, healthier lives than they ever did before. not because of politicians, priests, pundits, and generals, but because of the spread of new technologies. i think the universe favors -- or the universe deserves a sense of optimism today. that optimism is based on reality that the world is getting better.
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optimism is also a strategy. it is a strategy for living. if you are pessimistic about the future, you cannot be an entrepreneur. entrepreneurs need to be optimistic, they have to believe things are going to get better. in general, you need to have optimism in your life if you want to make a better world. if you don't, you won't step up and take responsibility for it. if you do think the world can be better, if you think your children can live in a better world, that will give you the strength to step up and take responsibility for actually making that world better. peter: in two sentences, what is the plot of "change is good"? louis: sex, drugs, technology, and money. six young people off on the adventures of their lives.
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some of which are actually about losing their lives. it is also about the opportunities, the threats, the wonderful things and the horrible things that are going on. peter: was that your life in the 90's? louis: sort of. i didn't have to face personal i didn't have to face personal danger in the 1990's. others did. things happened in the 1990's that we knew about later. we knew about the startups and money. there was another organization forming in the 1990's made up of young men that were using networks and computers to build nonhierarchical organization which exploded into all our lives on september 11, 2001. and that's another component of the changes that were going on at the time. you -- part of my story is also about a journalist that's on the
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trail of this story and what happens to her. peter: if somebody wants to pick up "change is good," where can they find it? louis: they can go to and order a copy. if they wait another couple of months there'll be a copy available on kindle through amazon. peter: he's the co-founder of "wired magazine," was fired from "wired" magazine, and has written this book, "change is good." thanks for being with us. >> thanks for having me. >> c-span, where history unfolds daily. in 1979, c-span was created as a public service by america's cable television companies and today we continue to bring you unfiltered coverage of congress, the white house, the supreme court, and public cy


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