Book Shopping
Sunday, July 9, 2000, 12:00 a.m. Pacific

Releases give two takes on cyberculture

by David J. Morel
Special to the Seattle Times

"Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They
Got There"

by David Brooks
Simon & Schuster, $25

A Critical Romp Through the Terribly Libertarian Culture
of High Tech"

by Paulina Borsook
PublicAffairs, $24

Paulina Borsook will read from "Cyberselfish" at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Elliott Bay Book Co., 101 S. Main St. in Seattle. Information: 206-624-6600.


The sky is black. The sky is blue.

That is probably how Paulina Borsook and David Brooks would respectively describe the same slice of early evening. In two new titles - each of which is, in part, a loosely veiled stab at the word coining game - they tackle what is essentially the same topic: contemporary culture and the next likely stop for this roller coaster.

In "Cyberselfish: A Critical Romp Through the Terribly Libertarian Culture of High Tech," Borsook limits herself to exploring the technology boom of the San Francisco Bay Area and its ramifications on the culture at large. Her work is obviously meant to be a warning of things to come on a national scale - a shot across the bow. While in "Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There," Brooks explores what he identifies as a major cultural shift - the birth of a new American establishment.

Borsook's basic argument is that most of the high and mighty of high tech are overly fond of the free market and overly antagonistic of government interference and regulation - a political outlook that she defines as technolibertarianism. She notes that the recent gazillionaires of the technology boom are less than forthcoming in their charitable endeavors. And she contends that many technolibertarian ideals simply don't hold water: The free market is not a panacea, all change is not good and the good old-fashioned library is often still the best place to conduct research.

But yet the ax grinding between the lines of "Cyberselfish" is almost deafening. Huge gobs of anger - directed in particular at Wired magazine, where Borsook used to be a contributing writer - weigh down almost every page. (This is the only book I have encountered that lists a disacknowledgment.) And overall, while trundling through details of one unheard-of conference after another, this book remains blissfully unaware that, to a large extent, the culture surrounding high tech has shifted. Witness the recent stock-market phobia to dot-coms. Or the looming breakup of Microsoft - all of which makes many of the arguments in "Cyberselfish" feel a bit like my once-beloved Commodore 64: obsolete.

"Bobos in Paradise" takes a gentler approach in shooting its prey. Brooks argues that the centurieslong feud between the bohemian subculture and the capitalist bourgeoisie has finally been resolved. And that the two have merged to form a new creature: the Bobo.

Beginning with a description of the changing values reflected in the glistening teeth of the New York Times weddings page, Brooks goes on to describe how American culture has undergone a dramatic change since the 1950s. And that this new establishment follows a different set of rules:

"They are prosperous without seeming greedy; they have pleased their elders without seeming conformist; they have risen toward the top without too obviously looking down on those below; they have achieved success without committing certain socially sanctioned affronts to the ideal of social equality; they have constructed a prosperous lifestyle while avoiding the old cliches of conspicuous consumption."

In sharp contrast to the technoselfish "geeks" and "nerds" that Borsook portrays, Brooks writes of the birth of a new business ethic, one in which work is more about doing something that you enjoy than making money. One in which it is the upper echelons of business that scream for revolution. One in which a new type of manager strives to create "meaning" for his employees as much as "profit" for his stockholders. And while such sentiments undoubtedly induce the gag reflex in many, Brooks himself is the first to point out that not all that glitters in Bobo culture is indeed organic.

"Bobos in Paradise" walks a fine line between glorifying this new establishment and demonizing it, which is perhaps what separates this book the most from "Cyberselfish" - its tone.

While Brooks admits to being a part of this new establishment - just as Borsook admits to being a part of the high-tech culture of the Bay Area - he seems to have made his peace with this idea, and even found much to admire in this new establishment's wackiness, while never faltering in the conviction that this establishment is as contradictory and loopy as all of those that have preceded it.

All of which makes this reader think that in the word-coining game, we may well be talking about Bobos years down the line, while cyberselfish will take on the ring of an oxymoron. Or at least we can hope for as much.

Copyright 2000 The Seattle Times Company

paulina b.

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