9.425 book review

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Tue, 2 Jan 1996 19:10:29 -0500 (EST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 425.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)

[1] From: Robert Kraft <kraft@ccat.sas.upenn.edu> (130)
Subject: Lawrence on Moore, EMPEROR'S VIRTUAL CLOTHES (fwd)

>Forwarded message:
>Date: Tue, 2 Jan 1996 11:31:38 -0600 (CST)
>>From: Gregory Singleton <ugsingle@uxa.ecn.bgu.edu>
> ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY <ecchst-l@bgu.edu>, LUTHERAN <lthrn-l@bgu.edu>,
> RELIGIOUS HUMOR <rehu-l@bgu.edu>
>Published by H-Pcaaca@msu.edu (September, 1995)
>TRUTH ABOUT INTERNET CULTURE. Chapel Hill, North Carolina:
>Algonquin, 1995. ISBN: 1-56512-096-5. $17.95 (hardback).
>Reviewed by John S. Lawrence, Morningside College, for
> This book is scheduled for release in September. Its timing
>is perfect. Many of our grandparents now have e-mail accounts
>at America Online. Windows 95 has been hyped beyond any other
>commercial product in memory except Michael Jackson's HIStory.
>Digital Emperor Gates was recently declared "the world's
>richest man" by _Forbes_ magazine. Computers are now pulsing
>with colors and sounds that have made them seductive
>companions for classrooms, living rooms, airline seats.
>Electronic gurus like John Perry Barlow have declared that the
>Internet "is the most transforming technological event since
>the capture of fire." (quoted at 197) Has somebody been
>spiking our ether?
>Let me digress to remind about the computer's trajectory
>through popular culture. Computers were giant and malevolent
>brains in films like _Gog_(1954), _The Invisible Boy_(1957),
>_Alphaville_(1965), and _Logan's Run_(1976). _Dr Strangelove_
>(1964) presented "The Doomsday Machine" as the ultimate
>world-destroying technology. _2001: Space Odyssey_ gave us Hal
>the Robot, who turned against its managers. _Colossus: the
>Forbin Project (1970) portrays a maniacal, god-aspiring
>machine. But by 1977 (the year of Apple Computer's birth in a
>humble garage), _Star Wars_ gave us the loveable R2D2 and
>CThreepio. They have been followed by other huggable computers
>whose loyal service has expressed the populist dream of
>computer-empowered masses. (If you don't believe me, just get
>Microsoft's _Cinemania_ Cd-rom and search for films about
>computers.) Dinty Moore--not a nom de plume and not named for
>the beef stew--and his friend Henry David Thoreau may be just
>the guides that many students of popular culture will need at
>this moment of electronic cultural ecstasy. Moore has been
>skeptically attentive to some of the millenarian fervor. But
>rather than giving us a Luddite rant with Thoreau as his tiny
>chorus, Moore has navigated the terrain of electronic space
>gently, sympathetically. He has taken a series of
>representative electronic domains and charted the features and
>native behaviors experientially.
> Moore's unstated rule is that he will not write about
>any Internet phenomenon that he has not directly experienced
>himself. This leads to awkward moments, as when Thoreau urges
>him to find a virtual partner and have some cybersex, but
>Moore dutifully performs and then reports the resulting
>sensation (disappointing, but hilarious). In these areas where
>he is a novitiate, he also supplements his understanding by
>conversing with those who have sacrificed hours (and sometimes
>careers) to networked communication.
> Moore's chapters cover subjects such as electronic mail,
>community bulletin boards, spamming, flaming, MUSHes
>(Multi-User-Shared-Hallucinations) and MUDs
>(Multi-User-Dungeons), usenet groups, and the Newt- vaunted
>electronic democracy. He also provides an appendix of
>"Internet Jargon." His aim, in addition to evaluating the
>culture significance of electronic social relationships, is to
>provide elementary background information to those who do not
>know about the domains he interprets.
> Moore is a consistently amusing, deadpan internaut. Adding
>value to his wry, usually deflating comments are extensive
>quotations from the bulletin boards and from confidential
>electronic correspondences between people maintaining
>therapeutic or romantic relationships on the Internet.(This
>material is quoted with the permission of the subjects.)
>Because of its precision in providing ethnographic data about
>Internet behavior, this book will be valuable for as long as
>anyone cares about what people did and said. It is a series of
>cultural snapshots that will invite interpretation for
>decades. Many of his extended citations will seem alien in
>tone, vocabulary and syntax to readers who have not traveled
>the same electronic roads. But that is precisely its
>documentary value.
> Moore's analysis of electronic democracy is wonderfully
>commonsensical, as he sends a frivolous message about his
>neighbor's theory of lawn mower clippings to president@White
>House.gov and receives the unthinking, automated nonsense that
>one would expect of a "wired White House" that pretends to be
>electronically responsive to netizens. One of Moore's
>questions is "if the Internet only gives us greater access to
>our elected officials' press releases and public statements,
>and not to our elected officials, how the hell is it going to
>change the world?" (125) The question itself refutes any
>likely answer.
> Moore would have us choose between a revolutionary or an
>assimilationist interpretation of the Internet. "I searched
>the electronic woods for all of these enormous, world
>shattering, status-quo-upsetting changes. I looked and looked
>until my eyeballs would no longer focus, but I just didn't
>find proof. Instead... what I found was that the Internet and
>all its clever bells and whistles are rapidly being
>assimilated _into_ our world." (200) On the whole, I agree.
>But my reservation about this conclusion of _The Emperor's
>Virtual Clothes_ is that Moore says little about the inspiring
>transformation of scholarly communication of the sort that we
>have experienced within H-net. I believe that the Internet has
>shown the potential to democratize and internationalize
>scholarly discussion and publication on a scale comparable to
>the invention of printing press. But that's my book, not Dinty
>W. Moore's. If you want a whimsical talisman that will help
>you keep calm amidst the current electronic frenzy, read this
>book. And do a favor for our puzzled progeny by saving it
>where they can find it.
>Morningside College John S. Lawrence
> Copyright (c) 1995 by H-Net and PCAACA, all rights
> reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit
> educational use if proper credit is given to the
> author and the list. For other permission, please
> contact reviews@h-net.msu.edu.