|Abacus, £9.99, ISBN 0-349-10785-8|
Another Dave Langford review.
The Internet backlash continues. For a change, this popular exercise in Viewing With Alarm comes from a US liberal rather than the pornography-obsessed far right. Mark Slouka doesn't mind porn, but is strangely dismayed by Net role-playing and identity-juggling possibilities.
Thus e-mail is barely mentioned. Usenet, Slouka reports after massive research lasting "a few hours", is entirely composed of nerds; the Web is a useless maze. What occupies most net users' time on-line, he reckons, is obsessive chatter in Multiple User Dungeons or MUDs ... which are not natural. If similar messages were airmailed, that would be different: God made the post office but not the Internet.
These arguments seem a trifle confused. MUDs are apparently bad because, however real the players' emotions, typing is no substitute for reality; but Virtual Reality is worse because its imitation of reality will be too good. Slouka's son dislikes non-realistic toy animals, showing such toys to be unnatural and wrong; but when another child loves Doom, it's the game that's unnatural and wrong. Legitimate concern that VR games might be more addictive than television or Doom (which civilization seems to have survived) escalates into a dippy nightmare where ordinary punters are forced to live permanently in VR while all the real grass and trees are reserved for Bill Gates.
Slouka is especially worried by those weird visionaries who see an Internet hive-mind as the next stage of human evolution; they remind him of Nazis. As he observes, Internet communication encourages large-scale group discussions, and most of history's atrocities were committed by groups. Q.E.D.
Actually, all the ideas Slouka finds shockingly new have been endlessly debated in science fiction and on Usenet: but he seems proud of not reading either. Alarmist rhetoric is no substitute for solid research.
|First published in Computer Weekly, 25 Apr 1996.|
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