We saw it written once that software was eating the world. What really happened, it seems to us, is that software made a world of its own and invited us there to be eaten.
These days, we’re lighting out for other worlds—real places, rather than ghostly spaces conjured by software. Take our local hardware store. The sights, the sounds of actual machines, the advanced tools that still seem built to thrill. We enter to the whirring music of the key duplicator. We seek counsel from people in many-pocketed vestments. We smell the sacred scents of oiled metal, dusty cardboard, evaporated varnish, PVC fumes, and bags of fertilizer with leaky seams. We imagine everything it took to build this world: millennia of trial and error, oceans of brow sweat, megatons of earthly matter mined, refined, and industrially transformed so that we humans might enjoy access to more varieties of self-tapping deck screw than there are stars in the Andromeda Galaxy. What a species, we think.
Our definition of “hardware” extends beyond the plumbing department, of course. We apply the word to anything physical that underlies our (increasingly immaterial) realities—any object with the power to transform techne, the knowledge of how to do something, into Logos, its utterance. Hardware moves earth. Hardware shapes molecules. Hardware sends electrons coursing throughout the world and into our fingertips. Software can still create worlds unto itself, even make us believe that the world of bits is all that matters. But we will always, in the pits of our beings, crave atoms.
In this special WIRED package, we have collected stories to answer that craving—stories that look inside cameras, cars, computers, and ultimately the chips that constitute the foundation of them all. Whether these stories reach you in molecules of ink on processed wood fiber or in layers of light-emitting diodes on a screen or in the electromagnetic pulsing of a speaker coil, we hope you’ll fall in love with the beauty and possibilities of hardware all over again.