July 9, 2000, 12:00 a.m. Pacific
Releases give two takes on
by David J. Morel
Special to the Seattle Times
"Bobos in Paradise: The New
Upper Class and How They
by David Brooks
Simon & Schuster, $25
A Critical Romp Through the Terribly Libertarian
of High Tech"
by Paulina Borsook
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:
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
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
"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
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
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.
© 2000 The Seattle Times Company