Book Shopping


A self-proclaimed Luddite, Paulina Borsook has been taking some of the wind out of the sails of Silicon Valley’s high tech and Internet boosters for the past several years in her work for Wired and on-line journals such as salon.

Now, the audience for this witty and insightful writer is about to expand with the publication of Borsook’s new book, "Cyberselfish: A Critical Romp Through the Terribly Libertarian Culture of High Tech" (Public Affairs).

The book examines the selfishness of many of the people in cyberspace, and raises troubling questions about the gung-ho, no-tough-questions-asked press coverage of the dot-com business boom.

Borsook also cuts through the anti-government, libertarian philosophy of many cyber-people, pointing out, for instance, that they conveniently ignore the fact that the Internet is a federal baby.

"Without government, there would be no Internet," the author writes in her introduction.

"Further there would be no microprocessor industry, the fount of Silicon Valley’s prosperity (early computers sprang out of government electronics research). There would also be no major research universities cranking out qualified tech workers; Stanford, Berkeley, MIT, and Carnegie-Mellon get access to state-of-the-art equipment plus R&D, courtesy of tax-reduced academic-industrial consortia and taxpayer-funded grants and fellowships."

Early in the book, Borsook reminds the reader that the term "Luddite" has been distorted in the rush to embrace new technologies.

"I am a Luddite — in the true sense of the word. The followers of Ned Ludd were rightfully concerned that rapid industrialization was ruining their traditional artisanal workways and villages, creating nineteenth-century local environmental disasters and horror-show factory working (and living) conditions for family members of all ages," Borsook writes.

"The Luddites were early labor and ecology activists, upset not so much with technology per se but with technology’s destructive effects to their bodies, to their children, to the places where they lived, to their ability to make a sane living," she adds.

The fact that Borsook is not anti-technology — indeed, the book makes it clear that she loves many aspects of high tech and counts numerous computer geeks among her friends — gives more credence to her book-length critique of the abuses in this new industry.

The mix of Borsook’s lively writing style, broad cultural references, and encyclopedic knowledge of her subject matter is reminiscent of Pauline Kael’s movie criticism.

Getting the book finished and published has taken four years of the author’s life, and in a recent phone interview from her Santa Cruz home, Borsook spoke with a mixture of relief and pride.

Readers in the on-line world have been following, and discussing, Borsook’s adventures in book publishing for many months.

"Cyberselfish" was briefly set to be published by the book division of Wired magazine, and then Broadway Books, but "it wasn’t a good fit," according to the writer.

Public Affairs is officially publishing the book on Tuesday and the author said "it ended up where it should have been…I love my editor."

The long journey to publication has probably benefited the book, however.

Borsook’s skeptical view of high-tech and a wired-together world ties in with the mounting criticism of "globalization" (represented by the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle and Washington, D.C.) and the growing nervousness surrounding high tech stock fluctuations.

"When we talk about high tech now, we’re really talking about the business culture," the writer said of a lot of the hype that surrounds dot-coms and other Internet business ventures.

For all the money that is being made by the major players in high tech, a lot of the industry is fueled by the grossest sort of exploitation of workers, Borsook notes.

"High tech is sure as heck beginning to look like advertising…," she writes.

"Advertising is famous for wanting kids fresh out of school (they know the newest trends) and winnowing people out by their forties. If you haven’t made it to the top by then, you’re something of a loser — or at least are perceived to be such — and will become increasingly unemployable."

The author fears that many of today’s brightest young things will find themselves less enthusiastic about the high tech world after they move into their 30s and 40s.

"It’s a bit like being a model — what wants you after you are this year’s girl? And if you don’t make it to the financial security of supermodel status, which meant you could sock enough away for when you got past your realistic earning lifetime (say, age thirty) — well ain’t it awful Mabel."

The 24/7 model of life in cyberspace employment is more appealing when you’re fresh out of college, and not yet responsible to spouses and/or families.

Borsook takes the reader along to many conferences and insider meetings, and at one point, writes, "What we were all recognizing was how many of these guys (and they are far and away guys, though not exclusively) hadn’t coupled off, hadn’t had kids."

"…It is eerie how many, particularly the philosophical as opposed to political technolibertarians, don’t seem to have found a way to get themselves comfortable in that most fundamental interdependent human social connection: a relationship with a Loved Intimate."

"And almost nothing will throw you into thinking about being able to rely on decent schools and the wholesomeness of the food supply and the safety of in-front car seats and the notion of dependency itself as having a kid."

Borsook said one of the problems with media coverage of dot-coms and high tech is that so much of this chatter emanates from East Coast publications and writers that are a whole continent away from what is going on in Silicon Valley.

The writer chuckled when I asked about Time magazine naming the founder of the still profit-free amazon.com Internet book-seller as its most recent "Man of the Year."

"That’s such an East Coast thing. They understand what a bookstore is, and (the company is) a total Wall Street darling…That ( cover) was about what is fashionable. Why beat up on them?," she said of the characteristically hapless Time editors and writers.

Borsook hasn’t yet planned an East Coast lecture and signing tour to promote her book, but she hopes to swing by some of our local colleges in the fall.

Meanwhile, for a funny, scary and immensely readable trip through this brave new world, get yourself a copy of "Cyberselfish."

paulina b.

  Contact the author

  Leave A Comment
Cyberselfish 2015
Looking Back

Website restored and maintained by Sleepless Media