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 Suck.com. 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 (www.ditherati.com). For more about Paulina, including a disturbingly complete bibliography, go to her unofficial fan-maintained homepage, www.transaction.net/people/paulina.html . Please join me in welcoming Paulina and Owen to inkwell.vue!
Michael W. Martin (michael-martin) Fri 30 Jun 00 12:06
I read salon.com'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 society. 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.
Andrew Brown (andrewb) Fri 30 Jun 00 12:06
Igor will show you to the bridal chamber. Mr Raymond awaits.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 30 Jun 00 12:16
So, Michael, your question is.... *8-)
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?
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...?
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?
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]
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 picture...
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?
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 cyberselfish.com
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 book. 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?
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.
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 'beverly_hills.com' --- 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...
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...
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.
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?
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...?
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.
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].
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?
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.
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...
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.
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.
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