If you've ever known a geek, or even been one,
you'll want to read Cyberselfish.
Paulina Borsook provocatively examines how workers in
high-tech--from marketing Barbie bunnies to dot.com
millionaires--display a soulless libertarianism far
beyond the political and verging on the religious.
Here she tells Amazon.co.uk Cyberculture Editor Liz
Bailey about virtual romance, business porn and the
ideas that shaped her book.
When did you first come into contact with high-tech?
Borsook : I grew up in Pasadena,
California, and I've lived in the Bay Area off and on
since 1973--most of my adult life. I first started
knocking around high tech in the early '80s. It wasn't
Silicon Valley then but it was still high tech. I
worked at a software company in Mill Valley, which is
a beautiful suburban county just north of San
Francisco. I didn't study high-tech at university. My
undergraduate degree is in psycholinguistics with a
minor in philosophy, and then I have an MSA from
Columbia's writing division, school of the arts.
That's a fiction degree.
Have you written any novels, then?
: No. My MSA thesis was a series of
interconnected short stories showing how the new
technologies could form relationships. I was writing
this in the late '80s and early '90s, and I can
promise you, No Body Got It.
My first published story is called "Virtual
Romance". It's about how one gets seduced into
the pseudo-intimacy of online connection. Both
"Love Over the Wires" [fiction Borsook had
published in Wired] and Virtual Romance have
been anthologised and reprinted. They've had a life of
their own: they're minor modern classics of a very
I would argue that my novelistic or creative
impulses underlie all my writing. Cyberselfish
is a book-length essay, it is not journalism. This is
gonzo anthropology: it is not an argument in the sense
of Susan Faludi's Backlash.
It's really much more like Tom Wolfe writing From
Bauhaus to Our House or writing about the
Merry Pranksters in The
Electric Kool-aid Acid Test. It's ethnography.
You say that a shift occurred in the people working in
high tech, from "New Deal Democrats" when
you were growing up, to the current crop of
technolibertarians. Why did that happen?
: I don't come to any single conclusion in
the book, but then again, that would be like saying,
well, 'What caused the counterculture?'. I think a lot
of things played into it. For example, Silicon Valley
culture rose post-Watergate, post-Vietnam. Also, the
western United States are very different from the
eastern. There is this attitude of, 'Put in the roads,
bring in the schools, bring in law and order and give
us power, then get the hell out of town.'
The invasion of the MBA culture has grafted itself
onto technology culture. The MBAs have borrowed a lot
of the same rhetoric--of innovation, of creativity, of
creating this emergent revolutionary global
culture--but that's not what's going on here right
now. It's really about the business deal, highly
speculative, the culture of flip-and-flee, which is
very much like the Liar's
Poker culture Michael Lewis writes about.
Do you feel a bit like a lone voice in the wilderness?
: I've come up with a term for all these
business books: business porn. Emotion porn is
Harlequin romances, and action porn is Tom Clancy
novels. Business porn is this very repetitive,
kind of book. The reading experience is voyeuristic.
None of them say anything new, they're
self-celebratory and not even particularly useful.
In a way it makes you feel lonely. Four or five
years ago there were more books like mine and Techgnosis.
How did you get into writing about tech?
: I was living in New York and I got a job
at a magazine called PC Junior--the PC Junior
was a sort of stillborn, disabled PC IBM. I then went
to Data Communications in 1984. I was working
at this very bits-and-bytes, stodgy computer
publication that was really respected, and thrown into
this hard-core culture of networking which was
regarded as a mixture of black magic and plumbing.
What made you come back to San Francisco?
: I was there for three years, and I really
wanted to come back home. I became the west coast
bureau chief on a magazine, and then in 1989, I quit
to go freelancing. I'd always had these artistic
pretensions. I didn't want to be editor of a monthly
magazine, not a mainstream journalist. I freelanced my
way through graduate school writing for high-tech
corporations and writing for every computer magazine
you've ever heard of and some you've never heard of.
Where does your family come from originally?
: My family story's the typical
thing. I am half-Canadian, though. To people in the UK
there's not much difference between an American and a
Canadian, but there are huge differences. In a funny
way I think it shaped a lot of my thinking. Canada has
a more benign culture than the States, a more civic