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The growth industry of the 90s is not multimedia, cyberspace or virtual reality. The growth industry of the 90s is hype about multimedia, cyberspace and virtuality reality. Apart from the video games industry, which took off like a rocket, there are more sound bites and press releases about all this stuff than anything else. Still and all, it’s fun hype. Reading all the hype might not tell you about much, besides the future of hype, but hype may very well be the future of culture.

But let’s turn the hype mode off for a minute and take a look at this new media hype industry itself. New media hype spawned two glossy magazines, which are now infesting the newsagents: Mondo 2000 and WIRED. Both are from San Francisco and combine that city’s liberal intellectual confidence with Silicon Valley info-capital. Being a last, late spin-off from the military industrial complex, new media hype is an odd blend of state-subsidised knowledge-capital and free wheeling small business hucksterism.

Both these magazines are aimed at people who want to scramble to the top of the new middle class of the emergent information economy. Mondo has fringe culture, neo-hippy pretensions, but is not that different from WIRED, which is pretty tight with the heavy industry types. If you want to know who’s most heavily into self-promotion in the info-celeb stakes, read Mondo. If you want to know who’s hawking this week’s hot product data, read WIRED. Or if you’re a serious, aspiring cyberpunk, read both. They may be mostly hype, but they are also guides to the expanded production of hype, which is precisely what the new information economy is all about.

The main thing one can observe about the expanded production of hype is that there are three kinds of info-hacking that cut it in the hype economy. One is hardware hacking—actually having technical skills. This is now pretty much essential. Like the old days of the art academies, you have to be down with some kind of technique. Modernist arm waving is passé. There’s no room any more for amateurs.

Of course, you can specialise in data-hacking. If you can surf the endless wave of raw data pumping out into the info-sphere every nanosecond, there’s a place for you. This is not so much a skill in finding information. Any fool can do that now—the stuff is everywhere. The skill is rather in not getting bogged down in yesterday’s news, in eliminating the inessentials. It is not so much about finding data other people can’t hack, as recognising the significance of something else, right in front of everyone’s nose, that everyone else has ignored. This process even has its own terminology: you can grep, grok or zen information: to ‘grep’ is to recognise patterns; to ‘grok’ is to drink it all in and distil the contours; to ‘zen’ is a far more elusive form of abduction for really hardcore data hackers. These are things they don’t teach you in school.

Then there’s a third option: style-hacking. Every cool info-hacker has her or his limitation, and that limitation is style. But somebody has to form the styles—the look, the package and the concept—for everyone else to wrap their bodgie bundle of skills or good in. So if you know nothing of Unix and can’t find a relevant piece of data in three minutes if your life depends on it, try style- hacking. Mondo 2000 is basically a style-hack mag. WIRED is data-hack. Hardware-hackers pretend not to read either.

Needless to say, all this is somewhat under-developed in Australia, but that will change. The publishers of Rolling Stone can see which way to wind is blowing, and have floated Hyper. It’s a video games magazine with aspirations to something grander—aspirations as yet unfulfilled, but worth keeping an eye on.

The video game culture covered by Hyper matters, because Nintendo and Sega are actually making new media happen. Like much new media, it starts as rudimentary trash aimed at the bottom end of the market. That’s how cinema started. Sega is raising a generation of teenagers acculturated to the post-broadcast age. Whatever form culture takes in the future, this is the audience it will have to understand.

Up the other end of the scale, check out the ‘Art & Cyberculture’ special issue of Media Information Australia. It’s a good collection of articles by and for people trying to put the new hardware tools to creative use. New media are not going to go away. The clumsy goggle and gloves ‘virtual reality’ is neither virtual nor realistic and will probably disappear into the museums alongside the Vita-phone and 3-D movies. Yet ever more abstract, flexible, accessible media will continue to arrive on our doorsteps, whether we like it or not. Whoops, looks like the hype mode is back on again …

RealTime issue #1 June-July 1994 pg. 22

© McKenzie Wark; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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