the short story of a year as a cog
in the digital revolution machine

story by derek m. powazek
photos by marla aufmuth



It was the summer of 1995. The era of Netscape 1.1N. I was fresh out of college, BA in photojournalism, ready to join the ranks of the digital revolution.

I turned to someone who was not a receptionist but had the unenviable task of sitting close to the door.

"Is Pam here?"

Jill Robinson looked at me in that snotty, beautiful way she's so good at and pointed at the reception desk.

"Right. Thanks."

- - -

Two interviews and three weeks later I got my phone call. I was hired as Assistant Production Editor.

I packed my bags and moved to San Francisco.

- - -



I was happy the day I walked into the office. Really happy. In fact, I was stoked. And I told people so, too.

I got the whole tour from AJ. Names and faces I would instantly forget and meet again later. And when I finally got to my desk, AJ introduced me to the production department of HotWired: Pam Statz (my boss), Carl Steadman (her boss), and Joey Anuff (the guy stuck with putting the Wired Magazine archives online).

This is back when Carl and Joey were doing Suck as a secret. I'd sent them fan mail a couple of weeks before. I couldn't believe it.

And when I was finally introduced to Carl, I asked him how he was.

"Fine. You?"


He laughed.

Not one of those I'm-with-you laughs, but a cutting, abrasive laugh. The kind that Carl does so well.

"Hey Sean," Carl called out to an engineer, "ask him how he is."

I decided right then that I didn't like him very much.



- - -

But I was stoked.

Three months out of college and I was working for Wired. Well, HotWired, actually. But that was even cooler.

It was a moment in time that I will never forget. Everywhere you looked, it was Net Net Net. There was this feeling of infinite possibilities and outrageous hope.

And for the first time in my life, I felt like I was in the right place at the right time. I missed the sixties. I missed punk. But, goddamnit, I was not going to miss this.

I was stoked.

- - -

The only person who seemed to understand all this stoked stuff was Taylor. Hired the day after me, Taylor and I had a common bond. Seven feet tall, Taylor had left the theatre to come work in the web, but the theatre never seemed to leave him.

We took to asking each other in passing: "You still stoked?"

"Yup! You?"

"Uh huh."



- - -

I watched as HotWired grew like a weed. The office expanded and expanded again. Adjacent walls came down. We spilled into other spaces, other floors, and, finally, other buildings.

I was employee 70-something and I'm pretty sure we have double that now. And that's only HotWired. Then there's HardWired, the book publishing company; Netizen TV, a stillborn TV show; and other something-Wireds that I'm not even allowed to talk about.

I watched as the company grew above me, and I stayed where I was. I watched as the ranks of the upper management moved higher and higher. And the futurists and dreamers at the top of the company seemed to flounder more and more.

Then they started killing the things we underlings were working so hard on without bothering to tell us why. Adrenaline was first. Then Allison. Then more....

- - -

{the eagle}

Slowly, my stoked-ness crept away from me. I didn't even realize it was happening until one night, after a lot of beer and bitching at the Eagle, Taylor asked me, "Hey, you still stoked?"

My eyes welled up with tears.

"Don't ask me that" is all I could think of to say.

"Don't ask me that again."

- - -

One year later. Summer of 1996. Netscape 3.0 is the norm with Explorer fast on its heels. I have finally been promoted to production manager of a new channel. Things are looking up.

But the web is a business now. The stock deflated. Suck sold out. Even Julie got depressed. The hope ran out.

And I couldn't stand it anymore.

I decided to do something.

- - -

It started out as a Photoshop doodle. Purple and black. Icons that spelled out f-r-a-y in a dingbat font. I checked – the domain name was available. My friend Jeff had server space. I had friends who were writers, just waiting for the right venue.

And, almost without thinking, I made the fray. I made it to be the thing I would want to read. Honest, personal, humble, alive.

the fray went live on September 16, 1996. I watched as the hits trickled in. People started to post. fray grew.

{fray icons}

- - -

And suddenly the tired act of dragging myself into work became exciting. How many hits yesterday? Any new posts? Any fray mail?

Then more cool things. Project Cool made fray a sighting. We started showing up on people's homepages. And then, on September 27, just 11 days after launch, Netscape linked to us from their what's new page.

And the people came streaming in. I watched the access log fly by in my telnet window. I watched as the posting areas filled up and the fan mail came in.

And, slowly, I felt a warmth in my chest that I hadn't felt in a year. It started in my fingers and worked its way up my arms and slowly filled my chest. I knew what it was, though I could hardly believe it.

I was stoked.

I ran to tell Taylor.

- - -

So this is for you.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for believing.

And here, for you, is the one secret I've learned in my year as a cog in the digital revolution machine:

There are things, deep inside of you, that no one can take away. Things that you can do better than anyone else. Things that can never belong to anyone else.

Take those things and make them a reality.

You have nothing to lose but your hope.

- - -

Are you stoked with your job?


photo of derek by jill atkinson
photo of taylor by derek m. powazek
photo of the eagle by jeff burchell