August 1997

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Encountering Insufferable Elitism

Book Review: Digerati: Encounters With the Cyber Elite
by John Brockman
Hardwired, 1996
ISBN 1-888869-04-6
354 pages; indexed
$24.95 (US)

Reviewed by Don Langham

In Digerati: Encounters With the Cyber Elite, John Brockman introduces the reader to some of the movers and shakers in the digital world. Frankly, I needed the introduction, for I had heard of darned few of the ^cyber elite prior to reading this book. And having been introduced to them, I can honestly say that I don't think I had missed much. It could be that they all suffer from Brockman's nearly insufferable elitism, especially when the tenor of the profiles sound too much like "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," as in this introduction to Wired co-founder, Jane Metcalfe:

"I first met Jane, Louis Rossetto's partner in Wired and in life, on the beach at Cannes, in January 1995, at a sumptuous luncheon hosted by Dr. Huburt Burda, the German billionaire and media magnate. Among the guests were a dozen or so young German executives wearing dark business suits and holding cellular phones. Seated to my left was Lord Weidenfeld, to my right Oskar Prinz von Preussen (general manager of Burda New Media and director of Europe Online), the great-grandson of Kaiser Wilhelm II."

I half expected a description of the dinner napkins and silver service.

Brockman concludes each profile with a collection of observations by other digerati on how the subject of the chapter "is the smartest person in this business" or "is brilliant, simply brilliant." After a while the whole thing starts to feel like a mutual admiration suck fest.

Making the whole thing seem all the more clubby are the stupid epithets Brockman gives each of the so-called elite-Bill Gates is "The Software Developer"; Howard Rheingold, "The Citizen"; Sherry Turkle, "The Cyberanalyst"; and so on ad nauseum.

Brockman's subjects do have some interesting ^insights, especially regarding the meaning of "content" in the digital age and how to make money in cyberspace. But it's interesting to note the prominence of venture capitalists among the digerati (Gates of Microsoft; Scott McNealy of Sun; Ted Leonsis of America Online) and the relative absence of people who actually do interesting things with digital media.

The bottom line: Don't waste your $24.95 on this book until you've given it a thorough once-over at your local library or bookstore. I suspect you'll find that you can live without it in your permanent collection.

Don Langham ( is a frequent contributor to CMC Magazine.

Copyright © 1997 by Don Langham. All Rights Reserved.


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