Editor's PageBy Kevin Hunt, Book Review Editor
Anyone with an interest in CMC-related issues has found no shortage of books to take to the beach or the park this summer. The shelves in the Computers/Internet/Technology section of my favorite bookstore are packed with new releases about the cultural, economic, and social dimensions of the way we communicate, now that the Internet and Web are a part of many people's cultural vocabulary. And what's interesting about the new releases is that many seem to convey a new sensibility. Rare are the once common technophilic or technophobic treatises on computers and technology and stories of people's adventures in cyberspace. They've been replaced by titles showing a new level of reflection on what people are doing with the tools of CMC now, and what we can do in the future. Sure, there is still a lot of trendy slock taking up shelf space, but in this and the following issue of CMC Magazine, we've tried to present reviews of books that are well worth pulling off the shelf, books that are provocative and insightful, and not merely technophilic, technophobic, or trendy. The result is what you find reviewed here.
One topic filling volumes in the bookshelves at Borders and Barnes and Noble is the role that CMC is playing in changing the shape of business and the economy. While countless books -- many extolling sure-fire ways for retooling businesses to take advantage of an Internet-created marketplace -- have already been cranked out, a few books are beginning to survey the bigger picture, exploring how technology is re-shaping the fundamental cultural practices that collectively form that intangible concept we caleDavis and Christopher Meyer. In her review of Davis and Meyer's book, Denise Burch provides a hint of the authors' perspective on the information economy, a perspective that might make the book worth picking up: as the authors say, their book is merely "an artifact of an ongoing conversation, which has hardly reached its final word."
Other ongoing conversations that have kept the printing presses rolling for some time now include philosophical explorations of how technology alters cognition and shapes culture. Michael Heim has been contributing to this conversation for the past decade, primarily in two previous books, The Electric Word and The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality. In his latest installment, Heim discusses ways of creating a balance in our lives between the virtual and the real. Reviewer Sharmilla Pixy Ferris takes a look at the result: just does Heim mean by Virtual Realism?
Speaking of the realities of life at the end of the century, now that the Web is a part of many people's lives, and as the Web opens new electronic marketplaces, issues of privacy and security are increasingly real concerns. Two recent releases that help distill the technical and political issues into terms that most everyone can understand are Technology and Privacy: The New Landscape, edited by Phil Agre and Marc Rotenberg, and Internet Besieged: Countering Cyberspace Scofflaws, edited by Dorothy and Peter Denning. As reviewer Nick Carbone points out in his review, what is at stake is trust, and both books explore the many factors are altering this, the fundamental condition to human interaction.
The idea of trust is also a salient feature in discussions of how CMC might foster online communities. Just how trust and other elements central to the development of human relations and community can be facilitated by CMC is what author Stacy Horn explores in Cyberville: Clicks, Culture and the Creation of an Online Town. As Andrea Baker notes in her review, Horn's book follows Howard Rheingold's The Virtual Community in richly depicting the wealth of relations that can be built in cyberspace, even with New York as a backdrop.
And finally, given the huge assortment of books exploring the potentials and realities of the Web as a new medium of expression and communication, lately I've been thinking about why the book as a medium of communication and expression is as popular as ever. This issue closes with my ruminations about the cultural currency of the book. Just what is it about a book that makes it the preferred medium for anyone wanting to make a statement or lay out the details of an extended argument? I don't have many answers, but it's a question that I'll take with me, along with a few other books, when I vacation at the Jersey shore in the coming weeks.
Copyright © 1998 by Kevin Hunt. All Rights Reserved.