radical Insights.

Weekly Research and Commentary on the Future of Business and Technology.

Tired Futures; Wired Futures.

Oct 10, 2023

In its very first issue (published 30 years ago this year), Wired magazine introduced a meme that would have pretty remarkable long-term relevance. The construct “Tired / Wired” was a simple dichotomy playing up the idea that the visions of the future coming to you via Wired were distinctly new, different, and of course very much worth your subscription money. And all that was Wired stood in contrast to the “Tired” – the played out, the passé, the things that were very much NOT (or no longer) the future from the vantage point of a newly launched San Francisco-based tech & culture magazine in January 1993.

The original list – also perusable at the link above – is amusing to revisit as a cultural artifact from a time and place of breathless enthusiasm for what the deeply interconnected, globalizing, networked era might bring. Tired: NPR / Wired: BBC. Tired: California Real Estate / Wired: Intellectual Property. Tired: Chaos Theory / Wired: Complexity Theory.

It’s even more interesting to revisit the list keeping in mind the idea that this cultural artifact is itself a commentary on visions of futures past and the process by which some of our images of the future are crowded out and replaced by new images of the future. Tired: Car Phones / Wired: Videophones. Tired: Virtual anything / Wired: …Virtual anything. That last one certainly resonates today and offers a concise argument about both the persistence of some future visions and also just how long the technologies that promise us tantalizing virtual experiences have taken to develop (…although maybe we’re just about there?)

Every proclamation about what the future IS carries with it – explicitly or implicitly – a statement about what the future IS NOT. The Tired / Wired meme makes this refreshingly clear and invites us to actually reflect on what it means to point to new signs of the future while dismissing or relegating others.

When we hear that cultured meat is the future (WIRED!), we should be asking ourselves which alternative food system pathways are being dismissed (TIRED?). When tech investors loudly back new LLM-touting startups and initiatives (WIRED!), we should be sure we understand why this hype cycle is/isn’t different from the last waves of evangelism – e.g., Web3 (TIRED?).

Is Airbnb now Tired and NYC-style short-term rental laws, Wired? What might that tell us about the trajectory of sharing & gig economies? Is the long-venerated Turing test finally Tired and action-based tests for empowered AI agents now, Wired? What does that suggest about how quickly we’re blowing past AI benchmarks – and how unprepared we are for things that might have already happened?

I could do these pairings all day, and 30 years on from its introduction, this simple meme provides us with a great, intuitive structure for reflection and for framing probing questions about the process through which one idea – rather than others – becomes prevalent in our collective imagination of futures.

What’s feeling Tired / Wired in your world? (via Jeffrey)