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The author has turned what is the most important, complex and useful structure of our times, the internet, into a boring and dull book. He is a shining example of my most authors should not read their own material. He reads in a monotone with no vocal variety to make his subject marginally interesting. If you are prone to sleep while driving do not listen to this book in the car. You may get in an accident.
Make no mistake the material could make a fascinating book, just not this one. The author tells of the first communication between two people over the fledgling internet. It should have all the drama of the first words between Bell and Watson but unfortunately it does not. This is described in the same dull manner that the author describes the journey to the various iconic internet places and buildings. The train, countryside, streets, signs and other tiny, inconsequential details are minutely described.
The book, actually, could be mislabeled. For those interested in narrative travelogues it could be a very good listen, but then they probably are not looking for a technical book about the workings of the internet. And those looking for a nuts and bolts book on how the parts of something as vast as the internet fits together into its whole are not looking for a travelogue description of it. That is the problem with this book. It is trying to appeal to two very different audiences and winds up appealing to none.
9 of 10 people found this review helpful
The material structure of the internet is a fascinating topic on many levels, from the environmental to the sociological, architectural, and philosophical. The sheer impact on world commodities and labor, the acceleration of disposable parts, and the massive amounts of energy drawn by server farms... all these belie such ethereal metaphors as "the cloud," our popular sense of speed and lightness. (I read somewhere, not in this book, that China is building half a dozen new nuclear power plants mainly to cool server farms.) In addition, the physicality of the internet begs analysis in many venerable philosophical traditions, from a Marxist framing of "superstructure and base" to the ancient questions of mind-body paradox (of which the net seems a vast embodiment). Unfortunately, the author barely touches on these issues. His approach is first-person narrative journalism and the romantically descriptive travelogue, closer in tone to Isabella Bird than critical theory. He visits several historically important sites in the development of the net, describes in colorful detail people he meets and places he sees, then describes his descriptions, no possible metaphor spared. To be fair, he is a good writer, intelligent observer, and does a very good job of reading his own book. On his own terms, he produces a good piece of narrative writing. There are a few good details, like the fact that Google data centers are blurred out on Google maps--shades of Foucault's panopticon! But the level of visual description is swooningly pre-photographic, perhaps a writer's reaction to digital hegemony, but perversely unsuitable to the subject. Those who like descriptive travelogues may enjoy the book. If so, I hope they will write in with more positive reviews. It is hard work to write a book, and some people are bound to like this one. I found it over-described and woefully under-theorized, and it left me still looking for a good book on the obscure materiality of the internet.
6 of 8 people found this review helpful