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June 2, 2000:

Cyberselfish: A Critical Romp Through the Terribly Libertarian Culture of High Tech

by Paulina Borsook

Public Affairs, 256 pp., $24

Paulina Borsook has watched the culture of technology grow up, and she thinks it's time for a spanking. With her new book Cyberselfish , the former Wired contributor has whipped off her belt to let those high-and-mighty techies know they've been bad, bad boys. The future isn't all shiny and happy, people (crack!) . The people steering the economy are deluded narcissists (thwack!) . And they don't even give to charity (phwip!) . With all her warnings about a future run by what she terms "technolibertarians," Borsook's book might as well have been called "cybercynical." She is that, indeed. She is also a proudly liberal feminist who supports the arts -- and it bleeds all over the page. Really, though, the tech world is due a nasty lashing or two, especially since the watchdog media has, with notable (and often ill-informed) exceptions, treated new technology like a welfare mother might treat a son bound for the pros: You go, golden boy. According to the author, even flagship tech magazines like Wired , for whom she once wrote, "almost never ran anything that was other than laudatory of technology or other than libertarian in outlook." Borsook turns a critical eye to the rah-rah boys club that evolved in this period of unchecked growth: anti-arts, anti-social, anti-female, and anti-government (never mind that the government is largely responsible for developing the technology they worship). By the way, Borsook is roasting the movers and shakers of the tech world, not the data-cruncher with carpel tunnels making $10/hour (whose paltry pay is more evidence of the industry's selfishness). So, is it really all that bad? Well, yes and no. Certainly Borsook is stretching the bounds of believability by trying to characterize an ever-growing and evolving population of techies. But she's right to expose the hypocrises and unintended consequences of their belief systems, the way Julia Phillips ( You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again ) was right to expose Hollywood's own shadow side. Cyberselfish is a passionate work, a plea for netizens and citizens alike not to buy into the idea that the future will simply take care of itself. "At a time when government spending on social and arts programs is falling away and corporate philanthropy overall is diminishing, what does it signify when high tech's way of being celebrates the exacerbation of these trends?" Borsook writes. And laments, with typical sarcasm, "And high tech is supposed to be the way of our future." Multimedia

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