In a very, very kind lead review in yesterday’s The Telegraph, the author and critic Nicholas Blincoe wrote about Cyburbia together with Bill Tancer’s book Click. This is an extract, or read the full review here:
“Harkin’s Cyburbia leaps off from this idea: that the new web is an endlessly responsive source of information. The word for this process is “feedback”, a term invented by the mathematician Norbert Wiener, who developed the idea while attempting to improve air defences during the blitz. Wiener began to think of the theatre of war as a single system – he saw the business of tracking bombers, plotting coordinates, and aiming anti-aircraft guns – all the while, the Luftwaffe would alter their courses in response – as part of the same big picture. Harkin argues that the maths that developed out of Wiener’s insight – known as cybernetics – now underpins the internet.
He also argues that Wiener was responsible for a cultural shift that led his followers to see feedback loops everywhere, and then develop the tools to make the loops tighter and the feedback swifter.
According to Harkin, Wiener’s earliest disciples were hippies of San Francisco and his book tracks their path from kitchen‑table publishing to huge software companies, arguing in the process that it is no accident that San Francisco is the Hollywood of computing.
By charting the story of our new lives from the London blitz to the summer of Facebook, Harkin is inclined to see the web as a kind of warfare, a place where we are twitchily avid for information, devouring it as though our lives depended on it.
If war is his starting point, it is little wonder his conclusion suggests we are all shell shocked. But Cyburbia is a persuasive book, and a brave step in thinking about the mess we may have all got ourselves into.”