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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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."