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Cyberselfish: A Critical Romp through the Terribly Libertarian Culture of High Tech Paperback – June 5, 2001

2.6 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Are nerds playing into the hands of the corporate elite? Commentator Paulina Borsook examines the politically and philosophically libertarian world of high-tech culture in Cyberselfish and finds it wanting a soul.

Formerly a writer for Wired, Borsook made a career out of alienating the technology priests and worshippers just enough to keep them reading. Now she is free to go whole hog and say exactly what she thinks--and the techies in San Jose won't be happy. Her leftist-liberal slant helps her see the "me me me" attitudes behind the anti-government, pro-freedom rhetoric spouted reflexively by so many programmers and suits in Silicon Valley and its virtual suburbs.

Unfortunately, that same slant keeps her from respecting that many techies hold these beliefs following years of struggle and thought--and prevents her from understanding that many libertarians are as much or even more sympathetic with liberals than with conservatives. Still, her insights far outweigh her biases, and Cyberselfish is a fascinating take on the Weltanschauung of mid-90s cutting-edge capitalists.

It seems unlikely that Borsook's dark visions of a heartlessly anarchic free market, populated by self-indulgent code millionaires presiding over the long- suffering masses, will materialize on schedule--but her predictions do make for thought-provoking reading while we wait to find out. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

A generation older and a gender apart from most whiz kids with stock options, Borsook, a former contributing editor at Wired, has a good vantage point from which to anatomize "high-tech's default political culture of libertarianism." Her examination of Wired's early years shows a party line lauding technology and libertarianismAwhile the industry is actually full of "technolumpen" and "free agents" who rarely receive medical or retirement benefits from the companies for which they work. She criticizes the philanthropic aversion of many industry magnates, who disdain the messy, nonquantifiable nature of human service charities. The emerging moguls she met favored bionomics, a Darwinian view of economic competition that manages to ignore the necessary role of government (which invented the Internet, she reminds us). Meanwhile, the "cypherpunk" privacy advocates she meets refuse to acknowledge countervailing government interest, maintaining "an angry adolescent's view of all authority as the Pig Parent." The private sector, she warns, can't support fundamental research the way the government can. In her view, the people who tell her that "government interferes too much in our lives" suffer from a selective view of history. Her analysis focuses on the mid-1990s rather than the presentAand on Silicon Valley rather than SeattleAwhich detracts somewhat from her message (e.g., Wired has turned some corners, and Bill Gates has given away billions). Still, her critique serves as a welcome corrective to the gung-ho chronicles of the new economy. (June)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs (June 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586480383
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586480387
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,857,162 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I borrowed (thankfully, did not buy) this book expecting to read a fair discussion of the political beliefs of all areas of high-tech. Unfortunately, within the first few pages it became clear that Borsoook has decided to tar everyone with even a slight interest in high technology issues with a very large brush.
The strange thing is that, from what she reveals of her own political beliefs, I believe in most of the same things as her. However, I was rather surprised to learn that ALL tech people are (in no particular order):
- anti-government anarchists
- loners
- rich and grasping
- sexually frustrated
- uninterested in art or music beyond the purely mathemetical
- incapable of understanding human issues.
Oh, and of course:
- libertarians.
In particular, I was extremely disappointed to see only two _very_ short references to the open-source / hacker culture, whose teamwork and altruism have donated a great deal of outstanding work to the public without expecting financial reward for their efforts.
If you have already concluded that we are robotic nerds who always write in bulleted lists (oops) then you might as well buy this book. If you don't know the meaning of words like 'dysphoric' and 'dilettante', then you might be well-advised to buy a large dictionary too. Just don't expect 'Cyberselfish' to give more than one side of the story.
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Format: Paperback
Most of the criticism of this book seems to come from those who disagree with its argument, or those who didn't like the idea of reading a polemic. Actually, I was at the outset sympathetic to the argument and enjoy a good rant; however I couldn't bear this book: the writing is appalling.

It is abolutely stuffed full of "knowing" references and pop-culture slang. Sometimes this creates the impression of trying to hide a weak argument in clever language. Other times it's just plain irritating.

Let me give you an example, based on opening the book on a random page. Here we go, pages 44-45:

- "I would affirm that yes indeedybob there are values the market can't compute or dictate..."

- "That crew [Marx and "his pal" Engels] was far better at how capitalism works than at coming up with policy-wonk recommendations."

- "Humanities geeks are more likely to be squishy-liberals and snail-darters."

- "Technolibertarians wouldn't really know how to grok a less quantitative/algorithmic weltanschauung. It's C.P.Snow's two cultures antipathy taking a form he hadn't quite imagined."

Anyway, after gritting my teeth through a hundred pages of this I gave up. The writing was just getting in the way of the argument. Maybe the person I should be blaming is her editor.

Oh, and her sub-editor too: it's full of typos. I know that's a pedantic thing to say, but how often do you read a good book with terrible spelling?
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Format: Hardcover
Let me begin by disclosing that I work in a technology-heavy industry and have libertarian political sympathies. And with that confession out of the way, I can say that I found 'Cyberselfish' an amusing book at times, if for no other reason than Ms. Borsook's ability to get under my skin. She's an excellent needler.
But her book, writing style aside, is pretty awful. I can almost forgive her many insinuations and half-truths since her title does promise "a critical romp"--and my Webster's denotes romp as "boisterous play" and "as easy, winning pace." But it's not enough. A breezy, play-loose-with-the-facts style is ok for suitable subject matter (I suppose ex-Wired writers don't bother with trifles like footnotes), but taking on an entire industry and political philosophy without suitable armor goes a bit far.
To name a few areas where facts might have been helpful: Borsook treats libertarian political philosophy and debates about the proper role of government in a free market society with-to put it bluntly-more prejudice than rigor. Referring to works by Ayn Rand (or even Robert Heinlein) as celebrating a "cult of the individual" is tar on a pretty thick brush (though both late authors might be flattered); a close reading of either reveals a celebration of individual *creativity*, not some Darwinian, I-got-mine-screw-you ethos. In short, both saw an individualistic spirit applied to one's work and play (with which the author herself might identify!) as the engine driving a free society; how this idea fell out socially and politically is another matter. This confusion has long been a staple for the authors' enemies.
But a sneer or two at cultural influence pales compared to the author's misreading of libertarian politics.
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By A Customer on November 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Ms. Borsook's book starts out well, makes some good points, including the basic idea that the prevalent libertarianism associated with high tech culture is selfish, misguided yet a growing force in America today. Her insights from attendance at various high-tech events were particularly interesting. However, I have given up in the middle of her chapter about the magazine "Wired", which is based on her personal experiences and oh Lord does she grind the ax to the nub.
After a while her writing style also gets extremely tedious: paragraph-length sentences full of jargon-laden descriptives, high tech turns of phrase and dependent clauses. Maybe you need to write that way for magazines to get as much information as you can into a short space, but in a book it really starts to wear.
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