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The trauma of having tech toys and too much cash
by Tim Abrahams/ (Scottish) Sunday Herald/16 July 2000
By Paulina Borsook (Little, Brown, #14.99)
The next time you read your e-mail or surf the net, spare a thought for the
cyber-gurus that made it all possible. According to Borsook,
computers are having a negative impact on the way workers in the
IT industry form relationships. And she's not just
referring to the odd anorak with problems finding a
Borsook goes to the heart of the problem, namely Silicon Valley, where a
skilled, high-tech labour force numbering over half a million has
gradually developed its own peculiar, computer-dominated culture.
When you add the large amount of money that thrown at
young companies it is clear that the geeks are suffering a
particularly violent double attack on reality; too much
time spent with PowerBooks and too much spending power.
Borsook has an admirable tech pedigree herself, having served her time on
geek bible Wired. She is also a self-confessed "lefty
feminist" with a master's degree in fine arts. Her
personal history reflects the war of lifestyles and ideas
going on between the market-driven world of Silicon Valley
and the laid -back left-wing sympathies of neighbouring San Francisco.
It is no surprise that her own sympathies lie with the 60s
radicalism of which San Francisco was the hotbed, and not with the influx
of recent graduates in search of $80,000 starting salaries who
are driving up all the house prices in the Haight area. In Californian terms,
Haight is an old community - but Borsook blames its destruction
not solely on the excessive wealth being made from new technologies
but on the blinkered frame of mind the IT industry encourages.
Borsook tells the story but doesn't really analyse, being instead content to
describe the thought process of your average programmer. She
suggests they become politically libertarian the moment they
write a program and it performs a task - whether it be the
one they intended or otherwise. From that moment onwards,
Borsook contends, the geek reckons that if he, with all
his tech know-how, can't make a simple program do what he
wants, how can a remote federal government in Washington DC
control a burgeoning market? Geeks aren't greedy, she
seems to say - they're simply more aware of human frailties.
For all her claims to identify with old radical San Francisco, Borsook is
remarkably coy when comes to good old-fashioned economic analysis.
The odd, unsubstantiated anecdote about computer programmers' lifestyles
is all well and good but it doesn't provide an economic critique
- or indeed some small standard around which North California's beleaguered
hippies and drop-outs can remarshall their forces.