Why Jann Wenner Let WIRED Start the Rolling Stone of Tech

  Reading time 3 minutes

Hey, folks. Everyone agrees that sabotage killed the Nord Stream pipeline. But no one knows who did it. Paging Hercule Poirot.

The Plain View

The first WIRED story ran in Rolling Stone in 1972, 20 years before the magazine launched. “Ready or not, computers are coming to the people,” it began. The writer was Stewart Brand, and a young Annie Leibovitz captured images of Stanford AI hackers (the vernacular then was “computer bums”) playing what some consider the first video game, Spacewar.

I call it a WIRED story because it captures the spirit with which this publication would later cover tech. And that article might have opened a door for Rolling Stone, which had successfully added politics, culture, and whatever Hunter S. Thompson was to its groundbreaking music coverage. Why not get ahead of the impending computer revolution?

But Rolling Stone’s cofounder and editor in chief Jann Wenner wasn’t interested in following up. It would be 10 years before the magazine did another story about hackers (with my byline). Even as tech became a huge topic in society and journalism, Rolling Stone didn’t embrace it. “I didn’t care for computing machines,” Wenner writes in his new memoir, entitled, naturally, Like a Rolling Stone.

I caught up with Wenner this week to discuss the book. I enjoyed it, especially his account of the early days of his publication. I had been a fan since the fifth issue, which came out in February 1968 and had the cover line “Pigpen to Meet Pope?” Through my college years I grabbed the then-tabloid from my mailbox every two weeks, immediately devouring the contents. Back then, music was the driving force in culture, and I dreamt of being a rock critic. But by the time I began writing for Rolling Stone in the 1980s, I was off the rock beat. And while writing stories for the publication I idolized, I stumbled into the tech world, a story I considered more vital.

Wenner told me that before our interview he’d reread my Rolling Stone coverage of the 1982 US Festival, a Woodstock-scale rock fest thrown by Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak. During that weekend, Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia gave me an unforgettable quote: “I think of technology as the new drug.” But Wenner, who describes his own prodigious use of pharmaceuticals in his book, resisted the idea that technology was as interesting a cultural phenomenon as the things that thrilled people in the ’60s. “I didn’t see that aspect that a few of you did,” he says. “I was never a math or science guy at school. So I didn’t have the underlying technological interest.”

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