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Cyberculture

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Hip digerati, brand-name hackers, electronic government, virtual sex. In case you just tuned in from a wetland preserve in Saskatchewan, computing has bigger cultural implications than spreadsheets. Cyberculture book authors tend to be sensationalist, strident, and highly opinionated. One person's revealed truth is another's anathema, and where some see utopia, others smell brimstone. Isn't that what makes it so much fun?
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The Soul of a New Machine (Modern Library)

by Tracy Kidder

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Cyberculture Editor's Recommended Book, 09/01/97:
A team of young engineers at Data General set out to do what seemed impossible in the late 1970s: build a new 32-bit super-minicomputer. Kidder captures their obsession and drive, chronicling the life cycle of the machine from drawing board to reality. In the process, he offers a deep look at the long, intense hours of intellectual work, and the personalities that stood up to it. Kidder's reporting is very real and shows a deep respect for his subjects. Without a doubt, The Soul of a New Machine is a classic, one that defined computer engineering for a generation. This re-release marks its addition to the Modern Library, and has a new and insightful introduction by the author.


Persuasion and Privacy in Cyberspace : The Online Protests over Lotus Marketplace and the Clipper Chip

by Laura J. Gurak


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Cyberculture Editor's Recommended Book, 09/01/97:
When Lotus Corp. announced a marketing database of 120 million U.S. consumers, the resulting roar of protest led to the project's cancellation. A similar outpouring of protest about the Clipper Chip as a proposed encryption standard for telephones and fax machines failed to prevent government endorsement. In this book, Laura Gurak goes beyond an exploration of the online controversies and even beyond the question of why one protest succeeded while the other failed. She uses these conflicts to examine her real interest: the nature of persuasion online, showing how urgent issues seem to form in two stages in Internet discourse--first as a broad area of general concern, then as a cause focused on a significant event.

She goes on to examine the role of inaccuracies and flaming in online debate, including the tendency of readers to find online information more believable than may be warranted. A brief chapter discusses the role of gender in online discussion in terms of both how men and women communicate and how their communications are heard--or not. She concludes with a discussion of the roles of business and government as the subjects of the debates, how the protesters perceived them as different forms of threat and how their nature influenced their reaction to the protests.


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Zeros and Ones : The Matrix of Women and Machines

by Sadie Plant

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Cyberculture Editor's Recommended Book, 09/01/97:
Meet Ada Lovelace, daughter of mathematician Annabella Byron and poet Lord Byron, and a major contributor to Charles Babbage's famous Analytic Engine. Lovelace is in many ways the patron saint of Sadie Plant's exploration of women's roles in the creation of modern technology. The book begins with Lovelace's story, and elements of her writings appear throughout the book--sometimes to emphasize points but often to exemplify attitude. They also serve to anchor Plant's dynamic, almost stream-of-conscious approach as we travel to 19th-century Europe to meet the nameless women who laid the foundation of modern technology with the development of weaving, survey the major female technological innovators of today, and even explore female figures in technology-based fiction.

Plant's "cyberfeminist rant," as William Gibson calls it, attempts to demonstrate that women have always used technology. You won't find victims here, rather women who were empowered by the technological innovations in their lives. What emerges is a very nontraditional feminist picture, one in which women are neither bystanders nor victims but are in many ways the unsung heroes of technical innovation. The author also points to a future where, within zeros and ones of cyberspace many such dichotomies of life/machine, let alone male/female, may blur in unexpected ways.


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The Governance of Cyberspace : Politics, Technology and Global Restructuring

by Brian D. Loader (Editor)

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Cyberculture Editor's Recommended Book, 09/01/97:
Organizing and governing cyberspace is a lot like herding cats. Even the concept of governance itself is a source of frenzied debate. Some see the online world as a nascent utopia that should be free of regulation, where the only rule should be the rule of technology itself. Others view the present state of online anarchy with alarm, as a threat to either vested power or perceived morality. And there are the so-called neo-Luddites who see humanity itself threatened by this new mode of interaction.

The essays in The Governance of Cyberspace: Politics, Technology and Global Restructuring attempt to steer a reasonable course between these extremes. A repeated premise is that governance is not necessarily a matter of imposed regulatory control but that it can arise naturally out of long-term interactions among groups and individuals.

Contributors to this book include political theorists, computer scientists, social theorists, science fiction writers, psychologists, and sociologists. There are no attempts at easy answers here. Instead, the writers examine tradeoffs involved in difficult issues: the right to privacy versus protection from criminal activity; freedom of speech versus use of the Internet by hate groups; and the use of individually controlled technology versus the increase in cost that such solutions could mean for large numbers of Internet users. Given the increasing size, commercialization, and polarization of the Net, this careful exploration of the ramifications of governance is a welcome contribution.



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Processed Lives : Gender and Technology in Everyday Life

by Jennifer Terry (Editor), Melodie Calvert (Editor)

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Cyberculture Editor's Recommended Book, 09/01/97:
Processed Lives focuses on technology's interaction with the social concept of gender. Much of the book deals with the technology of cyberspace--not surprising, given the subtitle's pointed reference to everyday life, which for most people concerned with cyber matters means something to do with the Internet.

For example, the editors chose Nina Wakeford's essay on feminist networking and interaction on the World Wide Web, as well as excerpts from videos produced by teenage girls in a gender and technology workshop. Although the emphasis is on online interactions, all forms of technology are fair game. Judith Halberstam's insights into the effects of public bathrooms on gender views will certainly raise eyebrows as it raises questions.

Other essays take on embryonic fertilization, surveillance systems, UFOs and "the new technologies of race." A group calling itself the Barbie Liberation Organization does some home transplant surgery between G.I. Joe and Barbie that defies easy description.

This collection isn't limited to traditional verbal discussions. Included are visual works by several artists, including Ericka Beckman's images from the film Hiatus and Joyan Saunder's and Liss Platt's excerpts from the experimental videotape Brains on Toast--a satirical examination of theories on gender and sexuality. Don't expect a comfortable resolution at the end, either, but it's long past time for people to be asking the essential question in this book: who actually benefits from technology, and why?


Reinventing Technology, Rediscovering Community : Critical Explorations of Computing As a Social Factor

by Philip Agre (Editor), Douglas Schuler (Editor)


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Cyberculture Editor's Recommended Book, 09/01/97:
Editors Philip Agre and Douglas Schuler have collected 16 essays that examine the interaction between technology and society, with particular emphasis on the question of how individuals involved with computer technology can best promote social responsibility. Overall, the essayists seem undaunted by the prospect of trying to make predictions based on rapidly changing technology. As Agre points out, long-term predictions are often unnecessary, and as long as there are general goals, and policies leading to those goals, we can adjust along the way. As one example shows, Lee Felenstein greatly influenced the development of personal computing and networking through his work with bulletin board systems for social activists, accomplishing social goals without the ability to predict what the PC and cyberspace would be today.

The essays in this book break down into two groups, which the editors categorize as critical and constructive. The "critical" essays analyze the present state of computing and society while the "constructive" essays report on efforts to create alternate approaches. Essays include Hank Bromley's skeptical look at computers in the schools and how their mismanagement could push towards a future of the information rich and information poor. You'll also read Rob King's review of how genre conventions shape nonfiction social analysis, and Chris Hables Gray's analysis of the U.S. Navy's controversial Aegis system and the difficulties of artificial intelligence-assisted warfare. Not to be missed is John Coate's essay that pursues an inn-keeping metaphor for online community building. Coate is a former manager of the Well, one of the older and more famous online communities in existence, and currently runs the Gate for the San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle. Given his extensive experience, when Coate serves up advice about online community, it rings true.


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Rewired

by David Hudson

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Cyberculture Editor's Recommended Book, 09/01/97:
David Hudson turns a skeptical but humorous eye on the past, present, and future of the Internet, and, with an irreverence that stops just short of cynicism, debunks the myths of a cyber-utopia. He compares Net hype to the dreams of earlier communications revolutions--predictions that telephones would mean the end of traffic jams or that cable television would put power into the hands of individuals and small business.

Access is a big issue for Hudson. While it's still possible to participate online with a low-powered computer and slow modem, various pressures on the Net (the growth of the graphical Web and the trend toward snazzier graphics and animations) continue to raise the price of total participation. This is no one-man tirade, however. The book also offers conversations with people like virtual community pioneer Howard Rheingold, Rock producer Brian Eno, and Louis Rosetto, cyber-libertarian and publisher of Wired magazine.

It's not that Hudson is down on cyberculture--he's soaking in it. But he has a firm disregard for the sort of romanticizing that closes its eyes to real problems and real issues. And while he agrees that the Net is part of a major revolution in world culture, he doesn't believe the direction that revolution will take is easy to predict. One highlight of the book is the series of interviews Hudson conducted with writer Paulina Borsook, who dared to criticize Wired and Rosetto--and then lost her contract with Wired's book publishing division, Hardwired. Many of these essays and interviews have appeared on the Rewired Web site, but Hudson has pulled them together topically, and added commentary and updates.


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Technopoly : The Surrender of Culture to Technology

by Neil Postman

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Neil Postman is one of the most level-headed analysts of education, media, and technology, and in this book he spells out the increasing dependence upon technology, numerical quantification, and misappropriation of "Scientism" to all human affairs. No simple technophobe, Postman argues insightfully and writes with a stylistic flair, profound sense of humor, and love of language increasingly rare in our hastily scribbled e-mail-saturated world. Highly Recommended.

New York Times Book Review:
Mr Postman puts [his ideas] across with energy, conviction, and considerable verbal dexterity. His illustrations of how new technologies can alter society are . . . vivid and thought-provoking.


 

 
 
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