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Culture

What the Flux is going on?

New Year's Day, 7:30 a.m.

New Year's Day, 7:30 a.m. The phone rang, and it was not the sound I wanted to hear. I rolled over, took off my shoe, and lobbed it at the receiver, succeeding only in knocking it off the cradle and onto my head.

"Bonjour, Skinny!" Grandma DuBaud bellowed with unusual gusto. "I'm just making sure you make your list of resolutions for la nouvelle annee!" I immediately resolved never again to mix cheap champagne and cousin Antoine's Ponchartrain Surprise. I also assured Granny that 1998 would bring a kinder, more philosophical Skinny--a man less concerned with bon mots than with reinforcing the positive energy of our global village. "Hah, you've been in California too long," cackled Grandma before hanging up. The phone rang again, and my resolve was instantly put to the test.

A Skinside source was on the blower with news that two of Hotwired/Wired Digital's longtime top dogs, executive producers Chip Bayers and Gary Wolf, are calling it quits to pursue other interests. The departure of these two veritable industry graybeards may explain the problems loyal fans have had recently in reaching Ned Brainard, Web rumormonger and back-porch-hanger extraordinaire, whose Hotwired column, Flux, has been in fl...well, let's say shifted about ever since the latest revamp of the site's lineup last summer.

Wolf and Bayers were long considered to be Brainard's biggest backers at the site, and I hope that their bid adieu to the Third Street Posse doesn't mean Brainard will be following suit.

Meanwhile, another alum, John Heilemann, a former writer for the now-defunct Netizen section of the site, is working on a book that has garnered the political scribe an advance close to or over the six-figure mark, or so the story goes. It helps to have the same agent as Esther Dyson, I hear. But I wonder about this "new media" biz, with numbers like that bandied about, as it seems the big money and high profiles come to town only when the old media contracts are signed.

As a close adviser mused the other day, a lot of that old media money for new media ideas is flowing from the traditional sources--megacompanies with New York publishing houses and Hollywood movie studios--serving notice that the idea of decentralized media power envisioned with the Web boom is as good as a chicken in a Hong Kong market. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss, as Horton the Elephant's favorite band used to sing.

Wired and its various ventures may not be to everyone's tastes, but in its five years the pastel-and-neon crowd has kept vigilant focus on the cultural, political, and technological ramifications of a steadily digitizing world, perhaps with starry eyes, but with a prescience and hipness that is just now catching on in the rest of the media world. (Even its detractors are snagging book contracts...) Whether you call it infuriating, fascinating, or full of hot air, give a tip of the fedora to Wired as it prepares for the Big 5 party.

Media Web sites such as Hotwired are well known for their bulletin boards where fans and foes alike can grouse and gripe en plein air, but it's unusual for a retail company to let its customers vent their spleens for all to see. Curiously, hard drive maker Western Digital does just that, with public bulletin boards set up on its customer support site. Granted, the company warns that any "abusive, defamatory, threatening, or obscene" postings may be removed, but some heated complaints still filter through, including one succinctly titled "Customer Service! Crap!" That's what Western Digital gets for not hiring Scottish tech support employees. Was that warm and fuzzy enough? If not, send me some aromatherapy and a soothing rumor before I kill a small lovable venture capitalist with my bare hands.