Review: The New Zealand Herald, 14 March. Probing Cyburban Neurosis.

Probing cyburban neurosis
14 March 2009
New Zealand Herald

Cyburbia – The Dangerous Idea That’s Changing How we live and Who we are

By James Harkin

Hachette, $40

Rating out of 10: 10

WHAT a fascinating book! The author is a Brit whose interest in understanding digital communications was sparked by writing about social-networking websites for his employer, the Financial Times of London.

In his words, “The most interesting thing wasn’t anything that went on, but the fact that we wanted to spend time there at all, ceaselessly pressing buttons in an effort to engage with strangers on an online network.”

For those with kids constantly on Facebook or YouTube, these questions occur frequently. Here lie the answers.

Mr Harkin has that rare ability to delve into complex subjects and make them fun to understand. He doesn’t delve into computers themselves but, as only one example, queries social scientists who have focused on the `why?’ of our fascination.

Could the information that passes through the internet have an influence far beyond the time we spend surfing? From this question he explains the background of computer capabilities, then hypothesises why we are drawn to spend hour after hour looking at a multitude of different websites and social sites that objectively have little to offer.

He continues with the San Francisco hippy movement and it’s ethos of instinctive mistrust of authority, and suggests that the web is a similar effort to bypass authority and make one’s own independent decisions.

To quote again, “Cyburbia has spread to affect our sense of direction, how we think, our ability to pay attention, how we engage with our culture, the media, and our institutions, even how we go to war.”

Yes, the questions are complex, but the author does a marvellous job of holding your attention and providing stimulus for thought.

If you are a curious individual interested in this exploding medium and its future, this book is a must. It is informative, fun, and illuminating. Buy it.

David Reed