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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 girlfriend either.

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.

paulina b.

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