You May Be An Information Architect If…

Jeff and I are in San Antonio, TX, on a consulting gig. Yesterday after work, we went out for beers with the team we?re working with.

Jeff and I, being Bay Area liberals, had been careful to not open political conversations here in Dubya-land. But one of the team members asked about how people felt about the War in Iraq in the Bay Area, and we talked about the many protests, etc.

It quickly became clear that everyone around the table was against the administration?s policies, which kinda surprised me. I mean, we?re in Texas, working with a conservative financial services firm, and yet when going out for beers, I?m surrounded by liberals. (Who admonished Jeff and I to not voice our views TOO loudly, lest we raise the ire of the tables near us).

It seems to be a constant among people who do the kind of work we do (call it information architecture, user experience, etc.). They?re overwhelmingly liberal. And love good beer… We drank at Flying Saucer, which had over 80 beers on tap. Oh, and quote Simpson?s episodes at length.

Not really courting popularity

So, our original reason for invading that country over there was because we knew they had “weapons of mass destruction.” Though, um, it seems now that maybe they didn’t.

So, as it became clearer to Those In Charge that we weren’t going to find any such weapons, the story shifted to one of regime change, and this idea of rescuing citizens from their oppressors, made official through the name Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Then we go stormin’ in, and, with some minor hitches, make our way into Baghdad, take over the city, and Iraqis cheer at the toppling of the statue of their (likely dead) leader.

And I get this sense that I’m supposed to feel joy at the liberation of the oppressed, the cheering masses in the streets, yet, what keeps recurring (and this is where I’ll be distinctly unpopular) is, “Fuck them.”

If Hussein’s regime was so painfully repressive, where was the revolution from within? Don’t tell me it’s just because they were afraid. Throughout history people have risen up to fight for their freedom, if the situation had become unbearable. And it’s pretty clear that we’re dealing with a culture that’s willing to die for its cause, yet, in this instance, the only Iraqis willing to die were those fighting the Coaltion of the Shilling.

Why are we expending value people and resources to help people who won’t help themselves?

Who is Wired Magazine’s Audience?

The advertisers, silly!

Now, to some degree, this is true of every piece of advertiser-supported mass media. But WiReD displays a mercenary zeal toward serving advertisers generally unseen in magazines that want their editorial to be taken seriously.

The latest issue includes a many-page insert on Wi-fi. It?s unfortunate that the considerable talents of writers like Paul Boutin and illustrators such as the folks at Xplane are wasted on this handjob for tech manufacturers. This extended advertorial ought to have had “Special Advertising Section” printed across every page, as it’s clear none of this would have been published had the magazine not lined up the likes of Intel, Linksys, and others to support it.

Remember when Wired used to lead the technological mainstream? In 1994 they wrote about Mosaic long before most people had CD-ROM drives standard in their PCs. Now they write about Wi-fi long after it’s been available at Wal-mart. And considering Wired’s demographic, it’s doubtful this piece offered anything new to their existing audience.

Though, I suppose a critique such as mine is also woefully outdated. Wired’s lack of pith has been documented for years. I just find it uniquely frustrating, because there are still so few outlets for coverage of technology in our lives that goes beyond specifications and product reviews. I remember greeting Wired’s first issue with enthusiasm, and for a while the magazine provided some social and cultural context for the technological revolution around us. But now, instead of giving us trenchant observations of how Wi-fi will affect us, like Howard Rheingold does in Smart Mobs, we get “Good-Bye 3G – Hello Wi-Fi Frappuccino” and articles about what gear to buy and companies to look out for.

SPECIAL BONUS: WIRED COVER INDEX
A couple of months back, Wired published a poster featuring every cover (You can see all the covers here. I spent some time on a plane ride compiling an index of the people featured on the covers.

(Recognizable means an identified person, not a model used to illustrate a concept)
Recognizable men: 69
Recognizable women: 2 (Laurie Anderson and Sherry Turkle)
Issue date of most recent recognizable woman: April 1996
Recognizable African-American: 1 (John Lee. This doesn’t include the white OJ Simpson cover.)
Issue date: December 1994
Recognizable Asian: 2 (Jerry Yang, JenHsun Huang)

Men used as models: 2 (May 94 and Nov 2002)
Women used as models: 5 (Nov 97, Oct 98, Dec 99, May 2000, Nov 2002)
Women shown mostly undressed: 4 (Nov 97, Oct 98, Dec 99, May 01 (yes, the last one is a drawing, I know))

Most appearances: 5 — Bill Gates (followed by George Lucas, the Myst-producing Miller Brothers, and Neal Stephenson with 2 each)
Bearded film directors: 3 (George Lucas, James Cameron, Steven Spielberg)
Cyberpunk authors: 3 (Bruce Sterling, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson)

(In the above index, I did not include the people standing behind Douglas Coupland and Po Bronson on their oddly-similar covers.)

I?m sure there;s much more to be gleaned from this dataset. If I had the time or inclination, I considered pursuing subject matter (video games and war are featured quite frequently) and occupation (CEO, technologist, media mogul, and author seem most prevalent). Other data that would require way too much time to gather would include age and country of birth. Oh, and this stuff would be interesting to track over time — which memes persisted, which died, which flourished? (the New Economy is definitely on the outs; cyborganisms on the rise)

How About Those Who Lollygag?

Stacy is studying to get a Ph.D. in archaeology. In picking a focus for her work, she’s settled on intentional communities in turn-of-the-century North America. Back in Canada, she had studied a group delightfully named the Doukhobors, Russians who had split away for the Orthodox church.

Now that she’s here in the states, her interests have turned more secular. At first considering studying the Icarians, who had a community in Cloverdale, in Sonoma County, she has since paid more attention to the Kaweah Co-operative Colony (PDF), which settled just east of Fresno, in what is now Sequoia National Park.

Stacy visited there last week, and brought back a copy of the Kaweah Commonwealth. The KC was the newspaper of the colony way back in the day, and even though the co-operative has gone, the periodical lives on. As does it’s delightful nameplate, unchanged for over a hundred years (except for the word “online”):

If you can’t make out the script in the banner, it reads
A JOURNAL FOR THOSE WHO LABOR AND WHO THINK.

Which I just love.

Rettig, Steady, Go!

“Interaction Design” is one of those terms that we ‘user experience’ types use that refers to something that *everyone* is familiar with. Marc Rettig makes that clear in his presentation, “interaction design history in a teeny little nutshell” (PDF, 3.2 MB).

Even if you think you know everything about interaction design, you should check out the slides because

  • Marc puts together concepts in a way I hadn’t seen before
  • He presents some new-ish models for thinking about interaction
  • Marc gives great presentation — clean design, excellent illustrations