Year 26

With this issue we start our second quarter century of publishing.  And we're as shocked about that as anyone.

We started publishing back in 1984 because it seemed like a good idea at the time.  For whatever reason, nobody else was publishing a regular journal on hacking or the specific security issues of telephones and, increasingly, computers.  There were few bridges between the emerging online world and the "real" world of print.  By focusing on the former in the realm of the latter, we managed to open up a whole lot of eyes that might never have learned of this world through the unique perspective of the inquisitive hacker.  The magnitude of that accomplishment continues to surprise us as we hear repeated testaments from readers who tell us what a profound effect the words printed here have had on their development and, in many cases, careers.

Again, we never thought this would happen or even that this kind of a response was possible.  It speaks to the power of the press and the willingness of individuals to seek out alternative perspectives and embrace new ideas.  And that, in turn, inspires us to keep going and to embark on new projects and adventures.

So what is different today?  Well, obviously everything is.  The simplicity of the monolithic phone network, the small and enthusiastic band of online enthusiasts - all changed to the point of being unrecognizable.  And, while a quarter of a century sounds like a long time, it's really quite surprising how quickly it all seemed to unfold.

But there are some things that, while different in composition, retain the same basic structure as they did back in our founding days.  One is our place in the world.  While we have resisted the desire to go mainstream (which wasn't all that hard for us), we find ourselves still thought of as the odd kid on the block.  We're quite comfortable in that position.  Quite frankly, it wouldn't be much fun if we lost the "outcast" image and became entirely socially acceptable.  By never actually becoming enveloped by the system, we retain the ability to analytically judge what's going on around us, without fear of hurting our position, market share, or other such term used by those beholden to greater forces.  We've certainly had our share of opportunities to change the direction and focus of our publication.  But our naive and simplistic rationale concluded that it then wouldn't be our publication.  And that means a lot more than most people can understand.

Something else that has held over the last 25 years is our reader base.  It's not just about numbers, which has never been our prime motivator.  What got us into this was the passion.  It started with a couple of dozen readers who shared it and spread to so many more.  And while some of us have lost that particular passion and moved on to something else, others have come in and relived it, albeit with different ingredients.  But that overall hacker spirit has managed to lived on and continues to morph into new and fascinating landscapes.  And we need to move along on this journey or risk becoming irrelevant or obsolete.

There are those who believe that the time of the printed word is done.  And while we agree that being on the net is vital to any entity wishing to stay in touch with the world around them, we strongly believe that nothing can ever truly replace a publication in print, just as we believe that there will always be places called libraries that contain actual books.  As members of the publishing community, we see firsthand the result of such supposedly forward thinking on truly alternative always pretty.

The mainstream media will never have a problem finding a way to survive because of their huge advertising support.  True, newspapers will be downsized and even eliminated as their owners seek to streamline operations and maximize profits.  But no community-supported, locally-owned publication needs to disappear.  If that support isn't there or if control is lost to someone without actual ties to the readers, then the die has been cast.

Alternative, noncommercial publications have always had to struggle, which makes the whole thing more of a labor of love than anything else.  The many zines that we've come to share newsstands with all have their own unique base of supporters and they simply can't be propped up with advertising dollars, at least not without substantially crimping their style.  Lose the supporters and the publication ceases.  And that's really the way it should be.  Unless those supporters are disappearing for the wrong reasons.

This is where we admit to some concern, not completely for ourselves, but for alternative media in general.  Everyone in the publishing world has felt something of a decline, which is a normal part of the operating environment.  Most of us have seen this sort of thing happen before for varying reasons.  It's the thought that true publishing is destined for extinction that naturally has us a bit peeved.  It's not simply because we're a part of that world.  It's because we're seeing up close how weaker publications are disappearing from the shelves, not because there's no audience, but because people think the same material can be found online.  The fact is it can't.  Not entirely, at least.

We think it's truly amazing that virtually anyone can put up a web page and express themselves.  That's a form of speech that simply wasn't there a couple of decades ago.  But with this ease comes a tremendous glut of information, so much that it can make people quickly get sick of it all.  It's called information overload.  And what is often lost in the process is the collaborative effort that's quite unique to the production of an actual publication.  It's the equivalent of everyone composing their own computer-generated music and nobody wanting to be in a band.  Or an infinite number of Internet "radio stations" coming from personal computers without a single one comprised of a group of people working together to produce a unique voice.

It would be wrong to ignore these advances or to portray them as if they were somehow a threat.  That's not at all how we feel.  The concern here is that we not embrace something so completely that we let something else fall into oblivion.  And if there's one thing history has taught us over the eons is that the printed word survives the test of time.  And while it can be supplemented with the blogosphere and instant messaging and constant status updates through one resource or another, there can never be a substitute for a final copy of a piece of work.  Sure, we have the ability to Photoshop a Rembrandt, to write an alternate ending to a Shakespeare play, or to remix a Beatles song.  When such works of art become obscured by the cacophony of modifications and second opinions, we all lose out and risk becoming mired in mediocrity.

We don't presume to put ourselves on such a high level but we do recognize the potential peril to the world of publishing in general and how its demise would ultimately hurt so many more than ourselves or our unique audience.  From our first days, our magic has come from mixing worlds - in our case, mixing the technical with the non-technical and, in so doing, telling stories that most anyone could appreciate and thus be drawn into the hacker experience.  We must do the same today, mixing the new advances of technology with the older traditions.  When each of these worlds helps to strengthen the other, true advancement will have been achieved.