The Making of "Cyberselfish" or
The Tragickal Historie of TDB.
When I started knocking around high-tech in the early 80s (first job at a software company in 1981) the computer guys I was running into initially
reminded me of the engineers and scientists I had known as a kid growing up in Pasadena. These friends of my parents and parents of my friends had been
employees of the Jet Propulsion Lab, Cal Tech, and the Southern California aerospace industry. While the 1980s-era Northern California employees of
hardware and software companies exhibited some striking similarities of character and affect to the techies I had encountered as a kid, they
fundamentally approached government, community, and the vision of what a good society is very differently from the technologists I'd known in the
1950s and 1960s. I found their libertarian stance puzzling, for as a Berkeley hippie, I knew that high-tech had benefited more and suffered less
from the government than any other sector of society.
I puzzled over this more in the decade to come, and was hit over the head with the connection between libertarianism and high-tech when I came to
write for "Wired" magazine a lot in its crazed glorious awful first few years.
Since I was writing about technology in a literary way, and approached high-tech with a view to culture and character rather than bits and bytes,
my agent wondered if I had any big ideas along these lines I wanted to explore. Well, actually, I did: it was to try to figure out what the deal
was with this technolibertarian thing. So in 1995 I trotted a book proposal on technolibertarianism around New York but it was just too soon, too West
Coast. No one was making money in their 401ks off dotcom IPOs in those days, and as one editor said to me "the automobile industry has a larger effect on
the GNP than high-tech and we don't write about the culture of Detroit automobile workers so why should we bother?"
So I gave up and came back home to San Francisco. About six months later, I got invited to a party by my friend Nathan
Shedroff, the creative director of Vivid, a pioneer hotshot Web design studio. Nathan and I had met online because he'd
liked a semi-spoof/semi-serious of a treatment for a situation comedy I'd written for "Wired" called
Anyway, the party was a benefit for the Names Project, the AIDS memorial quilt, and there I somehow got introduced to Kerry
Lauerman, now an editor in Salon.com's Washington D.C. office, then an editor at "Mother Jones". Kerry said he'd thought
my stuff in "Wired" had been okay, and would I like to write for his magazine? Well, I said, I did have this book proposal lying around
that no one in New York got and maybe they'd be interested in an essay pulled from the proposal? He agreed to take a look, and so "Mother Jones"
published "Cyberselfish" the essay (their staff came up with the title) in the summer of 1996.
Meanwhile, the newly-formed (and now long-gone) book division of Wired Ventures, Hardwired, was expressing interest in my book-to-be. While I was
skeptical that a critique of most of what the magazine stood for could make sense as a project for them, they remained adamant in their enthusiasm. I
was pleased, and it made a sort of secret sense that a Northern California/close-to-Silicon-Valley publisher would get it in a way an East
Coast one could not.
Along the same lines, in the summer of 1996, I also published a humor piece for one of "Wired"s websites, suck.com. I had originally entitled this
lists of dos and don'ts ("Do: say you have never gotten over reading Ayn Rand when you were 17. Don't: talk about your friend who does low-income
housing for HUD") "The Cosmo Girl's Guide to Dating Technolibertarianism", the sucksters retitled it "Sex and the Single URL", and in
small, it touched on everything I wanted to rant about in "Cyberselfish" the book. I was told the piece became an instant hit at cryptography
conferences, and remained popular among cryptographers for years to come.
The summer of 1996 was important in other respects: it was the summer that "Wired" had two failed IPO attempts and that I gave an interview to a small
website called Rewired (no relationship to the magazine "Wired"), hosted in San Francisco but written in Berlin by an ex-pat Texan. I was irreverent
perhaps one time too many about "Wired", its doings, and my love-hate relationship with it all at a time when much was shakey within the "Wired"
media empire; and so my deal with Hardwired fell through. This resulted in my inadvertently becoming a demure
media object and led to a second book deal with a New York publisher, Broadway Books, a division of Bantam
Doubleday Dell. By the time "Cyberselfish" moved to PublicAffairs, its third publisher, in April 1999, I had taken to calling it That Damned Book(TDB), because it felt like the powers of darkness had been very creative in
throwing every possible impediment in its way.
PublicAffairs is arguably the premiere U.S. publisher of political books. It's part of the Perseus Books Group, a
new publishing combine devoted to good books that matter. I am honored to be published in the company of people such as George Soros, William Greider, and Ward Just.
TDB is now also being published by Little Brown in the UK, DTV in Germany, and Locus in Taiwan.
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