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CyberReader 2/e

Editor: Victor J. Vitanza
Publisher: Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 1999
Review Published: November 2000

 REVIEW 1: Joe Wilferth

Victor Vitanza (a.k.a. SaVVy to his online following) has done it again, literally. CyberReader 2/e now in its second edition, is chock full of those texts and authors that have become a part of the cybercanon. Specifically, works by Howard Rheingold, Jay David Bolter, Barbara Kantrowitz, Susan Herring, Neil Postman, Ted Nelson, Jorge Luis Borges, Timothy Leary, and Julian Dibbell contribute works that have shaped and continue to shape cyberstudies. Despite the fact that this book is a product of print culture, Vitanza proclaims in his preface that the "real 'book' is out there on the Web, and it changes every nanosecond -- with old links going dead and new links being established -- as the world's library of babel comes into being while perpetually becoming" (viii). Truly the real "book" is out there in some extended and complimentary form. The book, as a whole, is both hardcopy text and electronic text. The webbed CyberReader, for example, contains the same chapter divisions as the book, but in these chapters users do not find the book's collected readings. Instead users find supplemental search information specific to the respective chapters as well as related cites (those of the included authors) and selected bibliographies (paper texts) and webographies (electronic texts).

This second edition (of the book) contains thirteen new articles which serve to replace the twelve Vitanza has omitted. Why the changes? It does not seem to be a matter of inclusion in or exclusion from a developing cybercanon. Instead it seems to be a matter of restrictions one finds in a print-based medium. Donna Haraway's "A Cyborg Manifesto" is clearly a major text and she has rightly found her place in the cybercanon, but she has been omitted from this second edition. It's a matter of space. In addition to these changes, the organization has been reconsidered so that the subjects and the chapters move gracefully from theme to theme. These chapters (and themes in parenthesis below) include: Cyberspace and Virtual Reality; Virtual Communities (Societies and Identities); Freedom/Censorship (Security, Hackers/Crackers, and the Communications Decency Act[s]; Sexual Politics; Virtual Books and Libraries (HyperText, Multimedia, Copyright versus Copyleft); Cyberpunk/Cyborgs; and MUDs/MOOs.

Following these seven chapters, Vitanza gives his readers a series of appendices which includes helpful "how to" information on netiquette, using e-mail and mailing lists, doing online research, avoiding copyright problems, and using proper citation of electronic discourse. He goes so far as to offer information on On-Line Writing Labs (OWLs) and a "CyberGlossary."

Collectively, the works included in CyberReader 2/e articulate the spirit behind both computer-assisted instruction and computer-mediated communication -- the latter of which is the book's primary focus. Amy Bruckman's "Gender Swapping on the Internet" (Chapter 7), for example, gives a brief overview of MUD technology before summarizing the behavior of female-presented and male-presented characters. Characters thought to be female get attention (sexual advances or offers of assistance) as characters thought to be male frequently appear hostile toward one another. Via MOOs and MUDs, Bruckman posits that we might explore other aspects of our identity. It's a rich essay in this collection.

In a similar vein, Susan Herring's "Bringing Familiar Baggage to the New Frontier: Gender Differences in Computer-Mediated Communications" (Chapter 4) describes the recurring gender-related complications in computer-mediated communication. Stylistically, for example, she links men to "adversariality" and women to "supportiveness" and "attenuation." Because these identifiable writing styles reveal gender, they complicate the idea of the Internet as democratic.

On a equally disturbing note, Julian Dibbell's now canonized tale of Mr. Bungle graces the pages in Chapter 7. "A Rape in Cyberspace; or, How an Evil Clown, a Haitian Trickster Spirit, Two Wizards, and a Cast of Dozens Turned a Database into a Society" recounts the infamous tale of a memorable afternoon in LamdaMOO. [Dibbell's book-length treatment of the incident, My Tiny Life: Crime and Passion in a Virtual World, was reviewed by RCCS in February 1999.] The inclusion of Dibbell's piece, in addition to those by Bruckman, Herring, and the authors mentioned above, makes Vitanza's CyberReader 2/e a unique and valuable collection. It is not a text devoted to issues of electronic literacy; it is not a text devoted the overly positive rhetoric surrounding computer technology; and it does not call for a (re)articulation of anything particular. And thankfully so! What does it do then?

Vitanza's collection successfully maps the discourse surrounding cybertheory and cyberculture. Complimenting the selected texts in this collection, readers find references to the literature of Kathy Acker and William Gibson, references to "new edge" culture of Mondo 2000, and URLs for e-journals like CTheory and Postmodern Culture.. It is indeed a fine and comprehensive collection of works. What is perhaps most comforting of all is that we may look forward to future, equally significant editions of CyberReader 2/e as re-invented visions of cyberculture continue to dawn in the buzz of the electronic horizon.

Joe Wilferth:
Joe Wilferth is an Assistant Professor of English in the Department of English and Philosophy at State University of West Georgia. Currently teaching composition in acomputer-assisted writing environment, his interests include computer technology and relationships between online authorship, literacy, and rhetorical theory.  <jwilf@westga.edu>

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