Technology Opinions

The Wired Diaries
We invent a computer, it alters our minds and emotions, and then we - the computer and us - head off in an entirely new direction. To where? It's a question with more relevance than ever: We're entering a new era, when digital technology must answer first and foremost to the consumer. That's the question we recently asked some of the brightest people we know.

The responses that flooded in were exuberant, disgruntled, sentimental, demanding - sometimes all at once. From cinematographer to gourmet chef to gearhead, each of the contributors to "The Wired Diaries" reveals that the line between our technological creations and ourselves is fundamentally fuzzy. We may differ in what tools we use, but the portrait of humans at the turn of the millennium is clear: We are beings entangled in our inventions. Like all relationships, this intimacy is full of passionate contradictions and unending surprises. And the conversation has only just begun ...

When I was a boy, I was paralyzed with polio. I became interested in remote controls; I built television sets; I invented things. The first technology I was attracted to was a good workbench with a vise and dry-cell batteries and a lot of wire. I built motors, radios, remote-control devices. I still have one of those remote controls today.

Francis Ford Coppola, director:

The simplest technology that gives me the greatest pleasure is a coat hook in the right place at the right time.

Nicholas Negroponte, digital guru:

When you had to carve things in stone, you got the Ten Commandments. When things had to be written with a goose quill and you had to boil blood or whatever to make ink, you got Shakespeare. When you went over to the steel pen and manufactured inks, you got Henry James. You get to the typewriter, you get Jack Kerouac. When you get down to the wordprocessor - you get me. So improvement in the technology of writing hasn't improved writing itself, as far as I can tell.

P. J. O'Rourke, humorist:

What I want is a pocket-sized wireless 1- or 2-Mbps PDA plus phone, weighing 250 grams and connected to a pervasive digital wireless network. I'm willing to accept lower baud rates in rural environments.

Bill Joy, founder, Sun Microsystems:

When I was a boy, I had the world's finest toy, a Mechano Set - you call them Erector Sets in the US. It's wonderful for engineers. The perfect toy. I dreamed of having the biggest of all the sets. It cost some incredible amount of money - I think about £20.

Arthur C. Clarke, author:

I remember looking at the Erector Set catalogue and wanting the fancy pieces - the three-speed motor versus the little one we had. But we had a really big set. We could build cranes; we could build bridges. When I was in the fifth grade, my family built a house. My brother and I helped with the roofing, nailing shingles down; we held things. We put up sheet rock and did electrical stuff. I was always fascinated with tools - table saws, routers, lathes. There are eight of us in the family, and the house originally was only about 1,400 square feet. Our bedrooms were 7 by 8 feet, but we each had our own. Engineering in general is about building things, solving problems. To this day there are so many problems with what we're doing at Yahoo! - things still need fixing. What motivated Jerry and me all along was really simple: You try to come up with nice solutions.

David Filo, cofounder, Yahoo!:

I once built a house with a friend. We started one autumn day with a picture of a large home - stone walls, wide porch, oak beams in the living room - held in our minds. Every invention begins that way - as an idea first. While technology is brought to life by the work of our hands, it is essentially the mind made visible.

Kevin Kelly, executive editor: Wired:

I want a computer I can talk to. One that would follow me around with a part of itself and wouldn't forget anything. Very intelligent, highly opinionated, but slightly antagonistic - a curmudgeon. I want a computer that won't necessarily agree with me, but will have enough emotion so that I suspect that underneath it all, it likes me.

David Crosby, singer-songwriter:

A computer cannot become self-aware unless someone gives it the spark of life - not unless it can ingest psychedelic substances on its own. But computers don't want acid. They have too much logical thought to do.

Ray Manzarek, keyboardist for The Doors:

You know what else I'd like to see? A computer that gets more valuable the longer you own it.

Hank Hill:

I was born into technology. My parents were both computer scientists, and my dad worked with John von Neumann at Princeton and helped build one of the first computers. Then they moved to Israel and built the first computer in the Middle East. They built me at the same time - and I claim that I have the better architecture because I'm still running. The main benefit of being a second-generation computer scientist is that you grow up at ease with technology. On the other hand, doctors make the worst patients, and in some ways, people who design computers understand too much. I don't do online banking, for instance, because I sit there and think about everything that could go wrong.

Judy Estrin, CTO and senior vp, Cisco:

I purchased an Apple IIe the first day it went on sale, marking my passage into technological adulthood. Appropriately, I paid for it with my bar mitzvah money. Looking back, though, I see it not as a break with the past but as one step on a continuum: Speak & Spell, Merlin, Pong, Atari 2600, all the way through to the Macintosh clone, Windows laptop, and the handheld computer I depend on today. Technology fools you that way; it moves to its own rhythms. It's hard to believe the Web didn't exist when I started college, but then again, my grandfather began life in a Ukrainian village with no electricity, cars, or telephones. Who is to say that technology moves faster now?

Kevin Werbach, managing editor, Release 2.0:

I don't do funny phone-machine messages anymore. I don't think anyone does. People don't name their cars anymore, either. Did you ever ride with a person who would pat the dashboard and say, "Come on, Matilda"?

Jon Carroll, columnist, San Francisco Chronicle:

The 13th Dalai Lama left me many things. One very important item was a movie projector that ran manually. The projector was old and very often became damaged. At that time, our great technician within the palace was an old Chinese monk. He knew everything. But after he passed away, the whole responsibility of doing the repair work landed on my shoulders. So I developed an interest in that movie projector and electricity. Generally, I like movies. But the types of films I like are mainly documentaries - about animals and nature. What you call feature films, well, I am not much interested in them because I know they are artificial - just acting. But one thing I liked was the late Kojak. He looked just like a monk! On the few occasions I saw him, I thought, "Oh! Very beautiful. Very beautiful!"*

The Dalai Lama, spiritual leader:

I wish my mother had had one of those GPS guidance systems and air bags, because she got lost all the time and was a terrible driver. When I was 16, my mother was uninsurable.

Halsey Minor, chair and CEO, CNET:

What technology should my mother have had? A stun gun. Not to use on me, but on other people in her past. My father? A shock collar. For himself.

Jenny Holzer:

ATMs are like my mother. I think they're judging me: "What are you doing taking out money? You hardly have any left. What are you going to spend this on?"

Cynthia Heimel, humorist:

This is the truth: I have never in my life used an ATM machine. Talking to me about technology is like talking to a fish about architecture. When Time magazine listed me as one of the 50 Cyberélite - I was number 50 - people in this agency went into hysterics.

Dan Wieden, cofounder and chair, Wieden & Kennedy:

I am probably the worst kind of modern being: a Luddite who relies, every other moment, on technology. I live 8,000 miles from my bosses, I communicate with my loved ones mostly by international phone lines, and I get on a 747 every time I need to see the dentist. Yet I harbor nearly all the superstitions - the uneasy questions - that make me write with pen and paper.

Pico Iyer, travel writer:

I was the first person to buy a Newton and throw it across the room.

Matt Groening, creator, The Simpsons:

Technology has increased the throw weight of my life beyond imagining. I'm dictating this into a 2-ounce headset while lying in bed underneath a down comforter and watching the words appear on a 3-foot screen across the room. (The arrangement also depends on a 13th-century bit of high tech called eyeglasses.) I make the occasional correction to my words via a wireless keyboard and mouse. My thoughts materialize before me with a stunning transparency. Two keystrokes take me out to the global network. All time and space are mine without lifting from the horizontal. Life is terrifyingly good.

Richard Powers, author:

I have several computers - all Compaqs. I have a satellite phone, courtesy of Inmarsat. I have seven secretaries on three continents, with one who specializes in email. I also have an AT&T videophone.

Arthur C. Clarke:

I've got laptops, PalmPilots - anything I can get my hands on. Videogames. GPS systems. I bought a boat not too long ago; it's got autopilot and GPS and a satellite TV.

Jeff Gordon, Nascar Winston Cup driver:

I've got two computers (a laptop and a desktop - both Macs), a treadmill, two televisions, caller ID, several phones - somewhere in this house there's a PalmPilot, but I can't find it so I'm using a Casio Boss - an electric toothbrush, and my dog. He's a big black lab mix and very intelligent; he's my best piece of technology. And of course I have a VCR and cable TV. And I love all this stuff, I love every moment of it. I like getting a new fax machine; I like researching it forever. Talking to the television is also fun. Right now I'm screaming "Fuck you!" at the television all the time. I'm so sick of everyone on TV, and I want them to all die. Pundits, please take a vacation. I often watch TV while I'm on the telephone with someone and say, "Look at that dress, look at that dress." I actually made a phone date for Sonny Bono's funeral. I was so afraid that there would be things to discuss and no one would be there. Now what I want is a pet locator. I have six dogs, but no dog technology. It would have to be a teeny-weeny chip on the collar or implanted, which is yucky to think about, but it's supposedly good if they get lost. I have one dog - she used to be able to jump over the fence. One day she took another dog with her and they were gone for two hours. I was sobbing. Now I know she just goes to Trader Joe's. What I hate is automatic phone systems. Worst is Macintosh support. I have spent an entire season waiting for tech support to pick up the phone. Now I've got the G3 and I feel incredibly cool. I like to whip it out on airplanes and pretend I'm writing.

Cynthia Heimel:

Without technology, I wouldn't be here. The month before I was born in 1912, my mother had a mastoid operation. So if it hadn't been for some sort of technology then, I would never have made it. I also have to say I'm fond of my pacemaker.

David Brower, chair and founder, Earth Island Institute:

When I was about 4, I was fascinated with the button - anything I could push to make something happen. It's a powerful concept, the button - it's a trigger - and I used to draw pictures of myself pushing buttons. Both my parents were artists; we had an extremely analog household. But when I was 9, I went to live in Los Gatos with my mother and grandparents. My grandfather was an IBM fellow. I remember him taking me to where he worked and showing me the giant computer systems in air-conditioned rooms. That was a watershed event: I was able to connect my interest in buttons with these huge machines.

Sky Dayton, chair and founder, Earthlink:

I love the fountain pen. Here's why: The fountain pen takes on the characteristics of its owner - the nib adjusts to the pressure you put on it. Your pen becomes part of your own personality. And when you pick up someone else's fountain pen, if they've used it for some time, you can't use it.

Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher, The New York Times:

The primitive was at the mercy of the civilized in our 20th-century times, and nothing had made it more so than the airplane I had helped develop. I had helped to change the environment of our lives. Had it occurred by will? By accident? I was the child and father of the circumstances of my life. -

Charles Lindbergh-

My first bike was stolen right out of my garage. I mourned. I thought, Oh God, it was never going to come back. My new bike is a Trek, though. It's more me.

Isabel Maxwell, president and CEO, CommTouch Software:

For all the time I spend writing about the consequences of Moore's Law, the technology evolution of the lowly bicycle leaves me awestruck. I was passionate about my first Cinelli, which I bought for a paltry $100 in 1965. There was a tremendous amount of technology in that bike. Three decades later, the refinement continues unabated.

John Markoff, technology reporter, The New York Times:

A good car tells you how it ought to be driven, if you pay attention. Porsches speak pretty clearly. Give a Porsche perfect input - exactly the right action with the brake, throttle, and steering, and it will reward you with a nearly perfect result, a sensation as gratifying as hitting a proper golf shot. On the other hand, bad inputs produce bad results, and when this happens at high speed you want to pay close attention to what the car is telling you. The best drivers don't just listen; they ask questions. Hurley Haywood, an endurance-race champion who's won Daytona five times and LeMans three times, stresses adaptability - a readiness to modify your behavior in response to what the car is saying. Recently I took a spin with Hurley at Thunderhill Park Raceway in a street-legal Porsche C4S he'd not driven before. He spent the first lap interrogating the car, exaggerating his use of the throttle, brakes, and steering wheel to see how it responded. During that lap he was hitting the apexes and exit points of turns to only within about 1 meter, which is good for somebody like me but sloppy by professional standards. By the second lap everything was smooth and very fast, and Hurley was nailing the apexes and exits of every turn to within a palm's width of perfection. Hurley was in full communication with the car. Computers have improved the communications skills of many high-performance cars. In Italy last spring I borrowed a Ferrari 355 F1 for a couple of days. The F1 has a clutch but no clutch pedal. A computer changes gears, using data downloaded from Michael Schumacher's Formula One races. Floor it and you experience Michael's greatest hits - shocking, slamming shifts that expand one's sense of the possible. It was a thrill, and I learned from it. But in much learning is much sadness, and the main thing I learned is that I'm not Michael Schumacher.

Timothy Ferris, science writer:

I love videogames; I'm designing my own. It'll be called Jeff Gordon Racing, and it's going to be like racing in the year 2012 - 300 miles per hour, 60-degree banking, and cars with little wings that come out when they get airborne so you can control them in the air.

Jeff Gordon:

My other car - not my Volvo tank, which makes me a road warrior - my other car is a Mercedes 280 SL. That car I really care about - it's silver, it's pretty and fun. There's an aesthetic about it. It's one of a kind. But it's not about status and all that. It's about pleasure.

Isabel Maxwell:

My computer is my closest inanimate friend. It's a machine, and if I had to kick it out tonight, I could get another one. But I couldn't do without what it does. I don't feel I'm there unless I turn it on.

John McPhee, author:

Technology, in short, cannot teach me how to do without technology. -

Pico Iyer-

There's a moment in You've Got Mail when Tom Hanks turns off his computer because he doesn't want to email back to Meg Ryan. He walks out of the room, then he comes back to the door and stares at the computer, and the computer stares at him, and there's this musical theme that starts playing - that song your computer sings to you, which is, "Come to me. Sit with me. Log on with me." There's no question email becomes a type of mild and harmless addiction.

Nora Ephron, screenwriter and filmmaker:

Within five years of first learning the computer, I was seriously worried about becoming addicted to conferencing. I was spending seven hours a day online. Partly as an antidote to this looming disease, I purchased a well-regarded computer game called Civilization. Pretty soon I was spending seven hours a day playing that. Through the years, I have greeted every technological advance with sarcasm. The sarcasm was always presented as a defense of humanistic values against the encroachment of soulless technology. The truth is that I am a huge fan of soulless technology; I just hate change. Indeed, it might be possible to trace the history of successful industrial advances by betting on those products and services that I have disdained in conversation and in print.

Jon Carroll:

I'm not addicted to connectivity. Yeah, I can picture myself surfing the Web at 60 - as I get older, I'll depend more on communications technologies - but I won't go overboard. You have to have physical balance. If I'm on vacation, I don't take a cell phone, I don't turn on my pager.

Jerry Yang, cofounder, Yahoo!:

I write my fiction in very beautiful notebooks, which have the advantage that you can sell them to Yale for its archives. You couldn't sell your disks. I use notebooks that are made by Papier Plus. The pages are very thick handmade paper, unlined, and are sewn into these buckram covers that are covered with different-colored cloth.

Edmund White, author:

The birth of my creative thoughts is always aided by the lowest technologies.

Robyn Miller, cocreator of Myst and Riven:

My favorite tool is a big, heavy, marble mortar and pestle that I carried back from the south of France. It's a technology as old as fire. When you're crushing and grinding, you feel like you're connecting in some primal way with the food. We get very lost in the unreality of lots of equipment, getting in the way of what's important: the person who's eating, the person who's cooking. My mortar and pestle is something that's been used since the beginning of time, and is still beautiful and elemental. It will never get tired, it will never get old.

Alice Waters, chef, Chez Panisse:

I was an early network advocate. When I had my movie studio in Hollywood back in late '70s and early '80s, I visited Xerox PARC and got the idea to create a network, an Ethernet network, through my studios for all the writers, the art department, and the casting department. I used to describe it as a clothesline running through every office in the studio. You could take a clothespin and put up a little card with an idea and it would go into the writers' department and they would turn that into a story. Then it would go into the art department and they would turn it into storyboards. And step by step, that card on a clothespin would come out as a movie.

Francis Ford Coppola:

Revised 2013 by Larry Gentleman