PAULINA BORSOOK has a name for people in Silicon
Valley. After a 20 years' exposure to grunt programmers, instant
millionaires and other high-tech life forms, Borsook has isolated the
common denominator. She calls it "Technolibertarianism." The
term refers to money-motivated workaholics who glorify individual
liberty, ignore social responsibility and wish the government would just
stop trying to regulate everything (even though the high-tech sector has
greatly benefited from governmental nurturing.)
"Technolibertarianism is more of a religion than anything
else," she says. Borsook talks like she writes, at cyberspeed,
splicing adjectives together with hyphens and slashes.
Her book, Cyberselfish: A Critical Romp Through the Terribly
Libertarian Culture of High Tech, is a ranting, poetic, extended
essay on the brave new subculture that has grown up around Silicon
Valley. She paints a picture in which a horrifying lack of basic
humanity and charity pervades what is quickly becoming the new world
Borsook has been knocking around high tech since the early 1980s,
writing for every technology magazine you've ever heard of and some you
haven't. Her fiction, essays, humor pieces and journalism have also
appeared in Newsweek, Mother Jones and Salon.
But it wasn't until she started writing regularly for Wired
that she sensed that something was terribly amiss. "I would see the
kind of stuff that I've described in the book, but I didn't know what I
was seeing," she says. "I'd just go, 'There's that again!
What is that?' It took me about a year and a half to realize it
was a libertarian propaganda rag."
Like many "liberal arts flakes" bumming around the Bay Area
in the 1980s, Borsook "kind of fell into high tech because that's
where the jobs were." She had studied psycholinguistics and
philosophy at UC&-Berkeley and received a master's in fiction from
Columbia. "My first stuff published was poetry," she says
between bites of bagel, the first actual nourishment she's taken during
her characteristically hyperbusy day. "My truest self is a
second-rate published poet."
But she says there's another side of her, reminiscent of Lisa Lubner,
girl nerd. She grew up in Pasadena surrounded by the old breed of what
she calls "New Deal Democrat techies," guys who worked in the
aerospace industry and at Cal Tech, and she has always felt equally
drawn to that world. Perhaps it is this outsider/insider dynamic that
enabled her to have such a clear perspective of what was going on in
She breaks technolibertarians up into two main groups. First there
are the Ravers, neohippies who hope that "through the wonders of
the Net we will all communicate and love one another ... without the
repressive parental influence of nasty old governments to interfere in
this freelovefest." At the other end you've got Gilders, so-called
after the former Reagan speech writer George Gilder. They are
superconservative specimens, "in love with the spirit of enterprise
and the spirituality of the microchip."
The book also discusses those poor suckers whose skills and natural
endowments don't fit into "the shiny happy new information
economy." This cyber-Darwinist theme appeared earlier this year in
Borsook's How the Net Ruined San Francisco, a seminal article she
wrote for Salon. In it she discusses how the new economy is
forcing unmarketable artists and others out of a city that was once
celebrated for its tolerance of freakdom.
Borsook, a resident of Santa Cruz, sees somewhat the same thing
happening here. "You're having the enclosures and the class wars
happening in Santa Cruz like you had in San Francisco, but it's
different. In San Francisco, you had a really rich, diverse, complicated
urban environment become increasingly more like midtown
Manhattan--sanitized and homogenized. But here you don't have an intense
urban environment. I mean, we all know what Santa Cruz was. Here
high-tech money and the dotcom speculative culture is turning Santa Cruz
into another Carmel, a gated community for rich people."
Paulina Borsook reads Wednesday (Aug. 9) at 7:30pm at the
Capitola Book Cafe, 1475 41st Ave., Capitola.
[ Santa Cruz
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