Cyburbia

December 1st, 2009 Books & Publishing, Fast Thinking

Cyburbia is what author James Harkin calls the virtual realm we inhabit online. Based on his description it’s a place like the physical suburbs on which the book’s title is based, but comes across as a slightly derogatory take on the Internet being about little more than everybody doing little but watching everybody else. As a hypothesis it’s a little unclear what Harkin’s saying, and neither the themes he tackles nor the language he employs to convey them are very accessible.

But Cyburbia has an interesting historical perspective. Harkin links the modern communications revolution to technologies and ideologies dating back to World War II, when the American founder of cybernetics — Norbert Weiner — identified the theory of the feedback loop, which Harkin believes underpins the Internet. He’s a little too in love with the term and with Weiner himself, discussing them so often and with such reverent language he ends up repeating himself.

It’s not the only strange theme of Cyburbia. Harkin believes the ‘drive to respond’ (our simple desire to answer messages) is behind the whole Internet architecture. He also makes incorrect generalisations about the models behind popular file sharing application like Bittorrent and Kazaa. With an interesting background, it’s nevertheless a cryptic story told with an enigmatic voice that we’ve heard most of before.


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