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Before Wired, There Was the Eccentric “Mondo 2000” (wired.com)
52 points by MilnerRoute on July 4, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 40 comments

There was a discussion about Mondo 2000 here on HN maybe a year ago, and I remember someone commenting that they & all their friends growing up in California saw Mondo as a huge joke. Their parents and older friends were all working with VR and the Internet and it was nothing like Mondo made it out to be. They couldn't believe anybody took it seriously.

One of the replies really resonated with me. Growing up in the midwest in the mid-90s, where scarcely anyone had heard of the Internet, Mondo was paradise. It portrayed a humanistic, technophilic world of sex, drugs, and high technology so far away from the humble, conservative "Breadbasket of North America" around us.

I have a full run of Mondo 2000 I intend to scan someday. Flipping through those back issues, it really does feel silly today. But back then, each of those issues symbolized hope for me. I kept a stack next to my bed for inspiration. I would dream about the future I was about to create.

Looking back, that's why I was so disappointed with college the first time around. I spent the last couple years of high school drooling over virtual reality rigs and cyberspace, only to have a required COBOL class my freshman year. I dreamed of dropping out and moving to San Francisco where all the cool people were, people who understood technology and the limitless future that lies before us.

Timothy Leary was my hero, and I wept the day he died. I tried reading Chaos and Cyberculture[1] again a couple years ago and it felt like barely-coherent word vomit. But in 1994 it blew my mind.

I worry that this will be the legacy of Mondo 2000 and its ilk. Taken out of context, I'd say it's 90% "weird for the sake of weird" crap. Although I must say that it's beautifully illustrated crap, pushing the limits of 1990s hardware and software. And that's the thing - so much of Mondo's value is in its context. The team behind Mondo were cyberspace missionaries spinning tales of a digital utopia, inspiring us to realize it. When the mainstream went grunge, they went digital. I feel like my passion for open source today springs from that same dream of a global kumbaya we were promised decades ago.

[1] https://drytoasts.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/timothy-leary-...

I think a lot of people miss that it was in in part literally a joke. It seems a lot people look at that "R.U. a cyberpunk" bit and think that it was meant to be serious. Hell, it was all right there in the editor-in-chief's name.

But of course it was also more than just a joke. Have you read "The Guy I Almost Was," mentioned in another comment here? I asked R.U. Sirius about that when I interviewed him in 2002 [1] and he said:

"I say that all the time in public interviews, 'We made it all up.' Which in a sense is true — some of it we made up and some of it we didn’t. Mondo 2000 clearly wasn’t journalism in the conventional sense. It was mostly composed of interviews, very subjective, really dedicated to people speaking in their own voice. It was very playful and very surrealistic. I never really wanted to do journalism — I do now because I have to to make a living. And we do it at Thresher, I guess because it’s become a habit now. To say we made it all up is kind of flippant, but we weren’t concerned with responsibility or credibility. We were more concerned with creating a sense of excitement and energy and a sense of belonging to the next wave of culture. And we were concerned with making people laugh."

* I think a lot of people miss that it was in in part literally a joke. It seems a lot people look at that "R.U. a cyberpunk" bit and think that it was meant to be serious. Hell, it was all right there in the editor-in-chief's name. *

Reminds us that what Poe's Law describes exited before the internet.

This sounds quite similar to Hunter S. Thompson and Gonzo Journalism:


There was a lot of that. I was one of the people behind Fringeware, well-acquainted with the Mondo crew.

I named my son Hunter Speed Thompson.

In the mid-nineties, I discovered "Mondo 2000: A User's Guide to the New Edge" by chance in a discount bookshop. At the time I was a teenager in working class rural England. I was working menial jobs while teaching myself to code and I was pretty depressed and alienated from my surroundings. This book was almost a lifeline to the place I wanted to be, the kinds of things I wanted life to be about. It was a real inspiration and encouragement to me in those years.

I had no internet then, so I just read the Mondo 2000 book again and again, along with the Hacker Crackdown, and Howard Rhinegold's book on VR. That was the tech culture I wanted to be a part of.

Please contact me if/when you scan the issues. I've been collecting back issues here and there, but I fear it's not possible to assemble a complete collection anymore.

I have this on my desk if you want it. Make me an offer.


edit: I can see from the Amazon link below it's still easy to get a hold of.

> the midwest in the mid-90s, where scarcely anyone had heard of the Internet

Something only people who never lived far from the coasts would believe. Ha ha.

Depends on when you're talking about. When I got my Ripco internet account in 1994, they made me get a parents' signature on a waiver before I could have access because I might encounter adult conversations and pictures of naked people.

This led to an hour-long discussion starting with "what's the Internet?" and "admit it, you just want to go on there to see naked people" before my dad signed off.

They younger people around me were exposed to the Internet first, through BBSs, Prodigy, and AOL. But the adults around me couldn't care less. Maybe it was a suburban vs urban thing?

What's funny is how quickly all that changed. It only took a couple years for the Internet to become a household word where I grew up.

I mean assumedly "some" people had heard enough about the internet to make a GUI browser for it...

These magazines always brings The Guy I Almost Was¹ to my mind (previously discussed on HN in 2009: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=740760)


I feel like an upvote doesn't do this comment justice. The Guy I Almost Was puts so much of the mid-90s "cyberculture" in perspective. I make a point of reading it every winter, when the dark grey New England skies leave me depressed and wondering if I chose the right career.

"By this time next year, Nintendo, Apple and Sony will be competing tooth an nail to get cyberspace decks to every home in America."

Not so much has changed it seems.

What's intriguing to me about The Guy I Almost Was is that the guy he almost became, presented as a sort of paragon of anticommercial virtue before being sucked into the vortex of the nascent Web, is recognizable today as a textbook hipster caricature. And really, is that much better than the technoweenie caricature he was trying to avoid, from a values standpoint?

Ha, yes. Always comes up in my head too.

But the best Electric Sheep comic was Delta Thrives. I look at it several times a year still. Gorgeous stuff.


I remember Electric Sheep too... So much better than badly drawn sneering blobs and stick figures expressing smug superiority or banal cynicism. Man did Internet culture ever turn to trash after ~2001.

90s Internet culture: what you posted.

Today's Internet culture: LOL I p00ped today! Because science!

It's really just a mirror of the larger culture though. I watched some old Star Trek TNG a while back and was just amazed. You could never even write anything that optimistic today.

History says these things are cyclic. Hope that's still true. Probably is. The 20s will probably be pretty awesome.

There's still good stuff out there in corners of the internet. And there was a lot of garbage on the net back in the 90s, too. There's just so much more good stuff AND garbage on the net now. Because almost everyone is on it, no matter how rich or poor, no matter how much or little free time they have to craft art.

For instance - since we are talking about one of the pioneers of webcomics - there s now a huge flourishing world of people doing comics on the web. One that's big enough and noticeable enough that people can find an audience to make a modest living self-publishing, with a pretty fuzzy border between it and the world of people who do work for "real" publishers. If anything it's getting easier and easier to make a living on this stuff with things like Patreon and Kickstarter.

It's just that yeah, we also have stuff like XKCD or the Oatmeal or Zen Moments that is honed to a razor-sharp edge of "something cute you want to re-share".

I guess it's like music. There's engineered pop that's designed for catchiness but otherwise is pretty crummy, but if you dig you can find good stuff.

I feel the two are to some extent mutually exclusive. Some of the parent cartoons are amazing but they're also weird. They're "heavy." I might not post those to my Facebook feed. My in-laws are on there.

Does anyone remember the beautiful cover stock used by Wired in the mid-nineties? That was a fantastic era for the magazine. Their online portal Hot Wired was ahead of its time. It's design lead Jeff Veen went on to found TypeKit. I had a subscription during that time and would excitedly check the mail every day. Before that, I'd trek to the local college to flip through their copies.

Hot Wired is also credited with inventing the banner ad.

Man, this brings back memories of lying on my loft in college, listening to industrial music while reading William Gibson. Studying CS, playing with 3D on the Amiga, reading 2600, Wired, Mondo, etc., etc. It doesn't matter if it was tongue in cheek or half joking, for some of us, it was describing the world you wanted to live in, or hoped was the future since Max freaking Headroom :-) It was fun!

And before Mondo 2000 there was ELECTRIC WORD [1], edited by WIRED's founder Louis Rossetto. How many of you remember that?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_Word

I've been trying to track down copies or PDFs of Electric word and Language Technology to no avail. I'm really curious what the design and contents were actually like. Best I've found are some scans of the covers and a little info on a few issues:


I'd recommend "Mondo 2000: A User's Guide to the New Edge" which is a compilation of articles from the magazine about drugs, technology, music and other topics:


Yes, great stuff, everyone was so idealistic (and naive...) before Facebook and the NSA. Apparently Google wasn't even going to be evil.

Not really. We rallied pretty hard against the Clipper Chip. John Perry Barlow ran in those circles (he interviewed Ted Nelson for one Mondo issue) and the EFF was a big presence in the hacker culture.

I'll admit we were naive about Google, though. But at the time, they were a couple college students taking on "big business". In a way, they were re-democratizing the Internet, and that was a good thing. "Don't be evil" was exactly the kind of message we expected to hear from an Internet company.

Yeah, I wouldn't necessarily call MONDO 100% naive. There was a lot of paranoia about government surveillance and the misuse of technology in its pages as well.

I agree that naive isn't quite the right word. A lot of the attitude and world view have their roots in the 60s counter culture and hacker / raver culture which combine huge optimism in human potential with a deep distrust of authority.

I kind of feel like Google actually believed what they were saying at the time. Paul Buchheit, speaking of "don't be evil," said he "wanted something that, once you put it in there, would be hard to take out"--he wanted people to remember it and call them out if they broke it.

The fact that Page and Brin have increasingly distanced themselves from it, and gotten increasingly irritated when reminded of it, says to me that they've changed a lot since back then. The people they are today would never have saddled themselves with such a slogan in the first place.

Mondo. Boing Boing as a zine. Fringeware Review. I used to have all of 'em. Wish I'd kept them, but at least I absorbed them.

All I have left from the late 80s - early 90s are 2600s. Small enough to keep around.

WiReD has always been garbage (I read it for the first five years, which is probably three too many), but at least it justified its existence early on by giving the BoingBoing writers jobs.

Has anyone else got The Real Cyberpunk Fakebook by Nagel and Sirius? That was awesome.

Same here - had the full collection of Mondo's and Boingboings (it was way better as a magazine) and so on .. chucked them all away and kept the 2600's. Those are always worth reading again and again ..

A few years ago I emailed Mark Frauenfelder about where to find Boing Boing back issues, and he told me they were planning on releasing them all as an iOS app.

Sadly, it hasn't happened.

Still on the cards.

I still have quite a few copies of various issues of FR.

After devouring Mondo 2000 in early 90s the early issues of Wired seemed sort of meh despite similar optimism.

When you were reading Mondo 2000, it seemed you were on the verge of participating in something great, the world was going to change (all hail Gibson) and you knew it better than those boring over the hill 30 year olds in suits.

I suppose it was the same feeling that teeenagers got from reading some punk zines of late 70s.

I had a fairly extensive collection of M2000 issues inherited from my older brother. Also had a copy of the 'Mondo 2000 User's Guide' book. All were stolen during a house party in 2010 that went limbic :-(

Mondo was probably the biggest typographic/layout stylistic influence for me. In that regard it was awesome !

probably the best article ever written about mondo:


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