Joi Ito, The Most Wired Guy I Know

Joichi Ito's family stone in Iwate might record the names of 27 generations, but Joi is a distinctly 21st century lad. One night last year, I dropped into Joi's apartment in Tokyo to kill time before the rave scene woke up .

"I'm in the Web," he said. "Look at this," he added. I looked -- and the world hasn't been the same for me since that moment.

Joi Ito
A Mosaic page painted itself on his computer screen. Along the left side were postage-stamp pictures of galaxies and pop groups. Next to the pix were headlines and subheads. Even before he issued a command, I knew I was looking at a new dimension. I could already hear it calling to me. Then Joi pointed at the picture of a Bombay world-funk group on his screen and clicked his mouse button. When music came out of his computer's speaker, I was hooked.

"I've been teaching myself hypertext markup language,'' he remarked. Joi is always teaching himself something I've never heard about before. "HTML" is a code that gives him the power to broadcast video, graphics, and text stored on his computer to tens of millions of Internet nodes linked together into a multimedia network known as the World Wide Web. Mosaic was the first of many software viewers that enable Joi and a couple of million other cybernauts -- soon to be tens of millions -- to see the sights and hear the sounds of the Web.

I remember my first sight of a Macintosh in 1984. I remember the first time I logged onto the WELL in 1985. I remember the swooning vertigo of reading through the names of 3000 newsgroups. I've learned to recognize those moments when a technological breakthrough sucks us all into a new dimension. Mosaic in Joi's hands had that instantly-recognizable look of the future to it.

Outside, in the streets of Harajuku, Tokyo teenagers cycle through a well-designed media loop: Fashion designers and retailers decide what trend to sell next month, their new look is transmitted at precisely-timed intervals to the appropriate tribes via popular magazines and "idol'' singers. Joi Ito, however, rolls his own media.

A Mosaic home page looks like the table of contents from a full-color, slick-paper magazine. There are menus directing you to some of Joi's personal information -- multimedia self-portraits. There's a video of Joi jumping out of an airplane. There are headlines that point you to some of Joi's favorite places on the Net: click on any underlined item, and somewhere out on the Net, images or sounds or words stored in digital form stream toward your desktop.

"Let's see what's new in outer space.' Joi clicked on the menu item for "Hubble Pictures." It takes a minute to suck down the image from its home on a computer 15 time zones away. Then a detailed color image of a distant galaxy, beamed to Earth from the Hubble Space Telescope that morning, pops up on his screen''

"How about the weather?" I pick one of the little pictures of parts of planet Earth -- the North Pacific, because that's where we were at that moment. In a few seconds, I was watchinga weather image on the screen, beamed down from a satellite an hour ago.

MTV.COM's server was cool. This was a digital outpost that MTV had set up on the Internet. Clicking on an icon on Joi's screen connected his computer in Tokyo to MTV's Internet site in the U.S. I browsed album covers, tried a few samples of the songs on the albums. There's a short video of a VJ blasting off in a rocket ship, to the accompaniment of Elton John's ""Rocketman.''

Tomigaya is a Net-zine, an online, multimedia version of an only slightly older cultural phenomenon that bubbles up from populations that have access to communications technology. Zines came from a generation who don't care about the mass-media. Zinesters want to get together with a few friends, jam with xerox machines and computer paint programs, print it out at night on the boss's laser printer, and put it out there for a select cult audience.

Joi and his nethead friends have their own ideas of where techno-culture is headed. They want to play the Net like their parents wanted to play electric guitar. Look where they're pointing; they might know something about where we're going.

They want to play the Net like their parents wanted to play electric guitar. Look where they're pointing; they might know something about where we're going.

Digital Zeitgeist
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