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How We Made WIRED With Guest Editor Barack Obama

Written by techgoth


I’ll admit that working on this issue kicked up a few West Wing fantasies for me. Yes, every time the WIRED team and I visited the real West Wing for meetings, I took selfies. The White House Mess–branded disposable coffee cup? I saved one. I peeked into the Oval.

But more seriously, my trips got me thinking about our country’s founders. Silicon Valley likes to think it is big on technological “disruption.” But those nation-builders really were upturning everything, using the most cutting-edge, radical technology and ideas of the time—a postal service, a census, electricity, representative democracy, inherent human rights, free speech, a free press. They took all that and built something fundamentally new. They were WIRED’s kind of people: innovators.

Scott Dadich


Scott Dadich is the editor in chief of WIRED.

I became editor of WIRED just after President Obama’s reelection in 2012, and in my first editor’s letter, I wrote that I planned for us to continue covering a world in the process of being invented. No organization or institution was safe from an onslaught of relentless change, I said then, and that includes democracy. The president had campaigned on a platform of hope and optimism about the future, and that’s what WIRED believes too: that the future will be improved by inclusion and invention, by the unfettered flow of information and ideas, and by civil discourse, scientific discovery, and techno­logical innovation.

So last spring, when one of the president’s advisers reached out to me about working with WIRED, I pitched hard. Forget a Q&A. I wanted something more ambitious. That’s why I went to Washington to invite the President of the United States to guest-edit our November edition. This isn’t about politics. We aren’t trying to get anyone elected with this issue. We are instead celebrating a kindred spirit, someone who sees the potential of the future and isn’t afraid to head into it.

The president and his team had page after page of ideas, and we realized that many of them focused on confronting big challenges—stopping climate change, exploring Mars, using personalized medicine to cure disease. They were the kind of ambitious ideas that you can see energizing a relatively young, hopeful optimist who’s about to be out of a job. We talked about the next big hurdles humanity faces and how we will get past them. These are the things that interest us too. One word seemed to capture the mutual mood: frontiers.

As we got deeper into our discussions, we got more specific. I wanted WIRED to collaborate with the president to illustrate how the machinery of decisionmaking can lead to a better future. President Obama’s whole job, really, is to make a series of policy decisions with the goal of assembling a stronger country. As a designer I find that particularly compelling, because to me that’s exactly what design is: a series of decisions with intent. Making policy is designing culture.