inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #0 of 150: Linda Castellani (castle) Fri 30 Jun 00 11:52
Paulina Borsook is the author of "Cyberselfish: A Critical
Romp Through the Terribly Libertarian Culture of High Tech."
She's also written for Wired, Mother Jones, and

Strangely enough, Owen Thomas is, to his knowledge, the
only person who's worked at all three of those places.
He promises to use his inside knowledge for good, not
evil -- well, he might ask a few wicked questions.

Currently a staff writer at Time Inc.'s new eCompany Now
magazine, Thomas spends an unhealthy part of his spare
time running Ditherati, a daily compendium of high-tech
blather (

For more about Paulina, including a disturbingly complete
bibliography, go to her unofficial fan-maintained homepage, .

Please join me in welcoming Paulina and Owen to inkwell.vue!
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #1 of 150: Michael W. Martin (michael-martin) Fri 30 Jun 00 12:06
I read's article about Paulina's book oh, a month ago or so.
I am looking forward to reading it. Although I can't speak for the
details, I am probably in agreement with one of the book's central
ideas (at least as expressed in the review): the adolescent nature of
the geek libertarian and her/his simplistic view of politics and
My biggest gripe with the libertarians (many with whom I have sparred
with on the Well) is their ahistorical, contextless evaluation of what
government is, and the zero-sum, all-or-nothing purity which is created
from this lack of historical realism. Many of them strike me as
armchair idealists who don't want to get their hands dirty, who can't
accept the needs for compromise and the implementation of
least-worst-case scenarios which characterize politics. They take for
granted many of the benefits of infrastructure which government
provides, and blithely assume the private sector will pick up any slack
without showing proof of why this should be. Having been brought up in
one of the most stable societies in history, they are not aware of the
petty tyranny which seem to develop in the absence of central control.
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #2 of 150: Andrew Brown (andrewb) Fri 30 Jun 00 12:06
Igor will show you to the bridal chamber. Mr Raymond awaits.
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #3 of 150: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 30 Jun 00 12:16
So, Michael, your question is....   *8-)
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #4 of 150: Michael W. Martin (michael-martin) Fri 30 Jun 00 12:19
No question...just some observations. Didn't realize I had to phrase
it as a question. All right... does anyone who is familiar with the
book feel my impression is accurate?
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #5 of 150: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 30 Jun 00 13:46
I wasn't serious; your rant was great!

I'm not through the book yet, but I think your observations align pretty
well with Paulina's thinking (and I'm sure she'll be here any minute to
say whether that's so). My own question is whether we can really nail a
precise definition of 'libertarian' given the many odd flavors we see,
techno or not...?
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #6 of 150: Owen Thomas (dither) Fri 30 Jun 00 15:39
Granted, libertarians come in many varieties, but I think
technolibertarians (squishy beasts that they are) are
nicely pinned up for inspection in the pages of Cyberselfish.
Paulina, when did you first meet the technolibertarian beast?
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #7 of 150: Paulina Borsook (loris) Fri 30 Jun 00 15:40
michael, spirit brother!
jonl, as i explained in the 1st chapter of what i call 'tdb' (that damned
book), i use the word 'libertarian' in a cultural/religious sense,
not in a strictly political sense. it's about values/mindset/monstly
unconscious set of commonly held beliefs.  'libertarian' came as close
as any other word i could find to describe this belief system --- but as
in any other, there are all different flavors/stripes/variants/degrees
of belief...
i also gotta say, that the ah strong response eric raymond had to
what he thought i have to say --- and the postings i am seeing on
amazon and on the cyberselfish website --- would seem to indicate
that this belief system is alive and weel throughout much of high-tech,
in spite of what brad wiener seemed to want to suggest...
i have almost come to feel that the flames i am getting are like plants
in the audience ---- thanx for proving my point! [g]
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #8 of 150: Paulina Borsook (loris) Fri 30 Jun 00 15:44
oops, sorry yap on without answering you, owen...
i would say i 1st ran into technolibertarians (tho i wouldnt have
used the term, or been able to describe exactly what i was seeing)
back in the 80s when i was knocking around high-tech. sightings
in siliscon valley, in the old arpanet/interent culture, the high-tech
companies of those days. it was sort of a puzzling background phenomenon
that i would notice from time to time, but as i had no framework for
understanding it, it took me a while to form something of a coherent
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #9 of 150: Undo Influence (mnemonic) Fri 30 Jun 00 15:52

Paulina, one of the things I was struck with in the book was the latter
chapter dealing with the lack of charitable contributions among the newly
cyber-rich. Do you have anything to say about Bill Gates's move in recent
years in the direction of being a philanthropist?
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #10 of 150: Paulina Borsook (loris) Fri 30 Jun 00 16:25
aargh, mike, i get asked that question all the time! [g] not that it isnt a
good one. my response:

1) i think gates setting up the foundation is a fine thing, and may it do
well and do good. as a proportion of his wealth, it's not such a big deal,
but it's still a huge amount of money.

2) that being said, it's not like gates/microsoft is so much like the rest
of high-tech; or that his doing that provoked, say, larry elllison or john
chambers to do something similar/competitively; and silval being what it is,
i have heard many people muttering "it's just a PR ploy to get the doj off
ms's case".

3) as you know, i have a lot of complex things to say in that chapter on
philanthropy; and while i do think some things are changing, i am rather
skeptical that the same high-profile people/philanthropists are written
about All The Time. for folks who are interested, an excerpt from that
chapter ran in the sunday mag of the san jose merc a month or so back; it's
avail online (dont have the url handy) ---but it's linked to under
'excerpts' on
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #11 of 150: The salon stopped responding (rocket) Fri 30 Jun 00 16:54
Paulina, one of the criticisms leveled against you is that this is an
opportunistic book written by a non-insider with the intention of
capitalizing on a big brand.  Naysayers point out that you weren't really
involved in Wired -- or the people working there who get lampooned in this

Is this an unfair characterization?  Put more directly, how much time did
you actually spend in the Wired offices?

And since I'm asking: Cyberselfish was published just after your
now-famous essay on San Francisco's ruin at the hands of the Internet
industry (published by Salon).

How much time during 1994-2000 did you actually reside in SF?
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #12 of 150: Michael W. Martin (michael-martin) Fri 30 Jun 00 21:48
>And since I'm asking: Cyberselfish was published just after your
>now-famous essay on San Francisco's ruin at the hands of the Internet
>industry (published by Salon).

What is the insinuation here? That was a fantastic article. Although
it may have been a bit "over-earnest," it reminded people of another
side of the white-hot blaze of prosperity which has obscured many
views. If the article contains blatant inaccuracies, it is suspect, of
course, but is this really what you are claiming? I know that in my own
native Boston, many of the trends Pauline highlighted can be seen in
nacient form as well as full flower. 
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #13 of 150: Paulina Borsook (loris) Fri 30 Jun 00 23:43
i find these intimations of opportunism and lack of cred very odd... what
does it take to establish cred? be an insider?

re: insideryness/outsideryness. got my 1st job at as a techwriter in 81; 1st
job at a cpu mag in 83; got my 1st laptop in 86; went online in 87. through
a circumlocutious chain of circumstances i ended up being among the 1st
coupla hundred people who paid money to be 'members' (a la aclu) of the eff,
maybe back in 92. i moved back to sf in 93, and wrote for wired a lot then,
and had friends who worked there.

others kinds of cred: i wrote what most would consider the definitive pieces
on the culture of the internet engineering task force (94) and
machack/apple's 3rd party developer culture (96). and by definitive, i mean
people inside those cultures considered the pieces accurate and people
outside those cultures thought the pieces interesting. earlier on, i did
stuff like ghostwrite a think piece for cisco's ed kozell back in 91 on the
transition to the commercial internet and in 94, wrote a giganto 'state of
the art' piece for late lamented 'byte' on security, a piece the sainted
peter neumann of sri/risks thought was ok.

i attended the 1st bionomics conference in 93 and met dan lynch in 87, when
i realized he was Really Something (it was at the 1st interop, the 1st
commercial conference about the net). i wrote a semi-serious/semi-satiric
treatment for a sitcom, published in wired in 94, called ''
--- to which nathan shedroff, then creative director of vivd (one of the
very 1st south park multimedia, then web-design, firms) responded 'who ARE
you? i -know- these people'. it was fiction, but nathan thought i had
captured the spirit of the times well enough...and it was nathan who invited
me to a soma party that was a benefit for the website for the aids quit,
where i met kerry lauerman of then of 'mother jones', who asked me to write
for them what turned out to be cyberselfish the essay.

i wrote 'nightcrawler' for suck only months after altavista made its leap
out of dec's research labs into common use. and i knew craig newmark before
he had a list.

i have and continue to have friends who work in technology. noel chiappa,
perhaps the 1st person i thank for the writing of tdb, is an old arpanet guy
and invented the multiprotocol router....

as for the accusation of opportunism, my only response can be a gallows
laugh. for one, i 1st floated the proposal for tdb by nyc publishers back in
94. and it's not as if writing a contrarian/non-business-porn book is going
to garner me money, fame, love of beautiful men, filmrights, or $5k/pop
speaking gigs at conferences and sales events.

as for my geographic street cred, i have lived in sf and berkeley most of my
adult life (since 73), with a few yrs time away here and there for jobs and
school. i moved back to sf in 93, moved to santa cruz because of chronic
health problems in 95 (i needed cleaner air); and have spent a few days each
week, every week, since then, up in the city.

i guess people havent been questioning my authority, so to speak, to me
directly, so i find <rocket's> polite questions rather puzzling...
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #14 of 150: Paulina Borsook (loris) Fri 30 Jun 00 23:48
and oh, one more thing. there was no connections between the timing
of the salon 'net/kill/sf' rant and the publication of tdb. tdb was
in rewrite mode under the supervision of my wonderful editor at public
affairs,with a pub date of spring 2000 already in the works. they
had bought the book back in april 99 ----so there was absolutely
no relationship between the two, except that the salon piece brought
me back from 3 yrs of profiessional invisibility (a cause de 3 yrs of
book hell), and introduced me to a set of readers who had not been
familiar with my previous work, because they had arrived on the scene,
post 1996...
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #15 of 150: Andrew Brown (andrewb) Sat 1 Jul 00 02:10
How do you rate the suggestion in Ellen Ullman's book that there is a
certain sort of personality type drawn to computers and a particular
brand of politics: might be technolibertarianism, or it might be
trotskyism. Either can be read as code for geeks taking over the world.
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #16 of 150: better run thru the jungle (sd) Sat 1 Jul 00 04:54
My kind of book Paulina. I suppose that I always thought that the folks who
were holding on to their money knew that the bubble had a lot of hot air in
it and that they should get what they could when they could. I see now that
this is more of a sea change for post peace and love young business people
back to the stingy robber baron era. After all there will be more companies
left after the shakeout than there were before. (Transmeta? Cisco?)

Do you think that many failed techcompanies knew that their stock options
were likely to be worthless when they used them instead of cash to lure
workers into the technolibertarian fold?
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #17 of 150: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 1 Jul 00 07:21
Paulina, re. your last response (13), I think <rocket> was also asking
about your degree of involvement with the Rosetto version of Wired...?
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #18 of 150: Randall T. Swimm (rtswimm) Sat 1 Jul 00 09:42
Interesting topic. I'll be on the lookout for the book when I visit
the Crown Books store tonight.
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #19 of 150: Paulina Borsook (loris) Sat 1 Jul 00 10:18
bah, my relationship with the louis rosetto-era wired has been documented in
nauseating detail elsewhere (the notorious essay i wrote for that anthology
'wired women: gender, new realities, and cyberspace'; the entire wired
chapter of tdb) that i refuse to rehash it here. if people want to make
specific claims of poseur-dom, i will try to address them.

as high-tech companies knowing that the options would be worthless, i dont
think so. i think most folks believed their own rhetoric, drank the kool-aid
as much as the workers they were trying to hire. after all, all anybody ever
heard in the media was about the way-new-cool-economy-where-it-all-works-
out-fabu-for-everyone-always (i wrote a piece for brills content about this,
about how since all everyone ever heard was how terrif it all was for
everyone, those folks for whom it hasnt worked were too ashamed to talk
about it...digression...brill's held it for a month, and if they dont run it
i'll shop it elsewhere...) but i do agree that many people in high-tech can
know that if they did luck out, it may be the one and only time, and tech
fashions being what they are, and age-discrimination being it what it is,
they might not necessarily ever be so lucky again. and so hold onto their
money tighter...and everyone who has done very well knows someone else
equally talented, hardworking, imaginative --- who didnt pick the right
place/right time companies to be involved with. or knows someone dull, lazy,
lacking conventional virtues --- who had the luck of the draw. so it's a
lottery, but a less rigged lottery than most.

as for ellen's theory about political culture and geeks, i think there is
some truth to it. but i think it's necesarily more complex than that, for i
have met squishy liberal geeks from time to time --- and a different culture
might reinforce certain aspects of looking at the world, and not those in
ascendancy at the moment. i mean, it could be argued that in a different
culture, the geek impulse to tinker and improve might turn them all into a
bunch of policy-wonkish, good-government types [g].
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #20 of 150: RUSirius (rusirius) Sat 1 Jul 00 10:21

As someone who has ranted about rightwing technolibertarians since at least
1993, I was prepared to like this book. Then I bought it and glanced through
it and found something I was directly involved in badly mis-characterized
and started to wonder about Ms. Borsook's care and perceptiveness. Then I
found  a friend of mine's participation in technoculture equally badly
mischaracterized.  And then I started to read the book...

Well, I read it until I misplaced it, but I was already starting to get
bored so I didn't look too hard.

It kind of feels like the "technorealists."  Oh, let's jump from one
oversimplified position to another one. Government bad... No no government
good. Rub these two asses together and horseshit winds up being published.

My question: Paulina, is liberty just a quaint notion held by confused white
men, tom paine just a pain in the ass?  Sure, the rightwing libertarians are
nuts when it comes to leaving us to deal with poisoned meat, and the
pharmaceutical and insurance industries ad infinitum, but don't they have
some good issues, especially in cyberspace, and if they weren't a bit
fanatical about them, wouldn't liberties in cyberspace be more easily
flattened?  Doesn't Hewlett Packard, the corporation you site as being good
old-fashioned generous charity practicioners of corporate urine testing?
Aren't the limits of state coercion against individuals worthy of serious
discussion?  And finally, do you hate onions as much as I do?
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #21 of 150: Paulina Borsook (loris) Sat 1 Jul 00 11:06
well, ru, if you had bothered to read the rest of tdb, you might have found
that your questions were answered. i am hardly a politically-correct, dead-
white-male decyring stakhanovite; in the crypto wars chapter that you found
so irksome i very much address the righteousness of much of the cypherpunk
cause and the government's abominable, worst-case behavior re: the crypto
wars, cda, etc etc.

in the last chapter of tdb i talk about how strange it's been to write a
book somewhat defending government at a time, as barbare ehrenreich says,
the government increasingly does things to us, and not for us. and as i
-say- in the last chapter, i have a lot of common ground with libertarians
(re: free speech, porn, the drug wars, a whole bunch of other stuff i wont
repeat here)

and of course  liberty and privacy are of inestimably high value. i would
never say otherwise and i have never said otherwise. simply tdb was about a
particular mindset and worldview; what you leave out is as important as what
you leave in; and tdb was NOT going to be the Big Book of Everything That Is
Wrong with High-Tech. It would be too long, no one would read it, and it
would have no editorial focus. tdb was a kind of gonzo anthropology of a
subculture. and as for hewlett-packard, it are guilty of all kinds of
corporate misbehavior; no argument there....but the new york times also
requires drugtesting. not that the times is a paragon of anything; simply i
was not going to go off on all possible tangents on everything.

as for the technorealist complaint, yeah yeah. they brought me in, it was
something of a mistake, and i have little/nothing to do with any of them any
more. you're making a guilt-by-association argument that doesnt behoove you:
i am neither david shenk nor andrew shapiro, and no one paying attention
would confuse me with the two. long may they prosper, but i am not them.
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #22 of 150: RUSirius (rusirius) Sat 1 Jul 00 16:46
well, ok. i'll have to take your word for it that your a passionate civil
libertarian...  or i'll have to find the book...

There's also a bit of a problem with mischaracterization and
charicaturization...   but then, i guess if it's gonzo then that would be
OK...  maybe if you made it a bit MORE gonzo, it would go down easier...
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #23 of 150: Undo Influence (mnemonic) Sat 1 Jul 00 20:40

I wish, wish, wish that Paulina had dwelt more in the book on the
fount of corruption that was Wired Ventures in 1996, and how the
get-rich-quick mentality was at least partly responsible for the implosion
of WV, but I guess it didn't quite fit into her thesis, and we'll have
to wait for the Gary Wolf tell-all.
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #24 of 150: Paulina Borsook (loris) Sat 1 Jul 00 22:52
tdb is a mix of gonzo and reportage and the anecdotal and the essayistic. a
chimera as it were. and ru, actually, i think onions are ok, if cooked.
and mike, you are also correct that an exegesis of the ins and outs
ofall of wired ventures is better off in gary wolf's capable
hands s --- tho i have no idea of the status of that project.
inkwell.vue.79 : Paulina Borsook - Cyberselfish
permalink #25 of 150: Katherine Branstetter (kathbran) Sun 2 Jul 00 08:56
I'm having a bit of trouble with the term "gonzo" here.  It sounds to me as
though it means 'careless' or 'thoughtless'.  How do you mean it to be
understood, <loris>?


Members: Enter the conference to participate

Subscribe to an RSS 2.0 feed of new responses in this topic RSS feed of new responses

   Join Us
Home | Learn About | Conferences | Member Pages | Mail | Store | Services & Help | Password | Join Us