[The text below is an edited summary, not a complete transcript.]
Hiawatha Bray: My career can be summed up as the relentless pursuit of the mundane. I believe in the mundane and take comfort in it. Cyberspace is a word I have rebelled against since the moment I saw it. However, I deeply admire much of what Mr. Gibson had to say in his book Neuromancer. One of the most intelligent things anyone has had to say about technology is his line "the street finds its own uses for things." What interest me is what uses "the street" finds for technologies. I don't care much about technologies when they are at a stage where everybody is going "ooh" and "ahh." That isn't what matters. What matters is the world of ordinary people and their uses of the technology.
My involvement in electronic journalism began when I scraped together some money and bought my first computer when it was still considered quite advanced if you could get a built in three hundred baud modem.
The first time I logged into Compuserve in 1985, I thought to myself, everybody is talking about personal computers like they are a big deal, but nobody has mentioned this. People are going to want
these things because they are going to be able to communicate information in volumes and at speeds that were never possible before. I became wildly interested it. There was a free monthly computer magazine in Chicago, and I walked through the door and said I want to write about this, and I started to write. I've been doing it ever since.
For me, the exciting part didn't really happen until 1994, when browsers started to come into their own. For the first time, ordinary people were starting to take a look at this technology. On the one hand, you could look at it say it is still on the cutting edge, but on the other hand, it was about to become part of our way of life. Of course, when you first start to cover it in the mid 1990's you have to cover it from the angle of what is new and hip to some extent. I am happy to say, that is no longer absolutely necessary. I cover the business aspects of the Internet. It is less what is hip, in terms of culture and fashion, and more about how we can make this technology a normal part of our lives. I want to let the culture decide for itself what it wishes to make of the Internet. It seems to me that a lot of the cultural criticism and analysis of the Internet involves cultures that I don't inhabit very much. There doesn't seem to be very much of black Baptist culture, and a lot of the cultures that are represented leave me vaguely cold. I prefer to focus on the real lives of the people I know.
I believe that the constant e-mail contact with readers is one of the most important aspects of what is happening in journalism. There are some newspapers where people are putting their e-mail addresses on their stories no matter what they are writing about. The fact that I exist as a journalist, not only on paper, but electronically, has a huge effect on how I do business. If I inadvertently have a little error in a story, in the age of e-mail, I will hear about it. I literally get feedback from all over the world. It forces me to be more scrupulous and cautious in what I write. The fact that I get e-mail from Russia or Italy about stuff that I have written is now a norm. You hear people talking in grand eloquent terms about how cyberspace is elevating the status of democracy and creating this universal conversation. They are absolutely right, but to me, the shock of it has worn off because I deal with it on a daily basis. I see it as one of the mundane realities of the Internet, rather than some grand thing. It is changing the way we live, but I wonder if we don't exaggerate the changes.
In the early years, you would get a lot of ill-informed writing and a focus on the freak show aspects of the Internet. I didn't like that at all. If you go back through my clips, you will find very few stories about such people. I don't write about them, because I don't consider them worth my time. I think that the neat things on the Internet are the companies that are finding ways to do business there, the organizations that are finding ways to stay in touch with their members, and the hardware and the software firms that are making it all possible.
When you cover the business of the Internet, you are being mundane. There is a lot to be said for this focus on the down to earth and ordinary. That doesn't mean that what we are looking at doesn't have its own magic and mystery. This is an idea that I have trouble conveying to people. There is something almost holy about the discipline, courage and vision of the people you write about when you cover the Internet as a business. You are not talking about the hipsters, hackers and cyberpunks. You are talking about the straight laced business people who raise the funds, build the factories, run the silicon assembly lines and write the code. These people are doing it because they want to get rich, but they are also doing it because they want to bring into existence a vision that they have of a world that works better, either in a small way or in a large way. They set out on this path driven by a courage and faith in their own vision that very few people have. This is why I love being a business journalist. I am amazed that most people don't understand that there is something about running a business that is not unlike painting the ceiling of the Sistine chapel. That same sense of transcendence, in their case manifesting itself in the commercial world. That is what I love when I spend time interviewing people that produce the products. It may be mundane, but I think it is really quite wonderful.