PRINT Summer 1995


J.C. Herz’s Surfing the Internet

Compu-telecommunications technology involves an epistemological shift no less radical than Kant’s Copernican revolution. The very forms through which we perceive and categories with which we think are transformed by the changing technologies of knowledge production. Things give way to events, identities to differences, and substances to relations. Everything is simultaneously interconnected and in flux.
—Mark C. Taylor and Esa Saarinen, Imagologies: Media Philosophy, 1993

Why don’t you pry your atrophied little brain out of your reeking, cancerous colon and shove it up your weevil-infested, snot-packed nose where it belongs.
—a “flame,” quoted in Surfing on the Internet

THIS IS A GOOD BOOK. Not necessarily rad, but phun.

It’s lite. It’s perky. It’s frothy. Hey. Surfing is all about froth and surface. Deleuze don’t surf . . . gedoverit.

And J. C. Herz don’t deconstruct but she hits the hacker boardz with glee. Not idiot glee, mind you. She’s bemused. She’s smart. She’s witty. She’s even frequently insightful. Twenty-nothing techno-babe meets boyz with toyz on-line, in a world more Don than Laurence Rickels. (It was an Artforum voice and an Artforum joke.)

So set aside your cyberpunk sci-fi romantic notions of the young hacker as the swaggering but minimalist cool anarcho–Clint Eastwood of cyberspace. Chapters on flaming, alt.barney.dinosaur.die.die.die, rec.Pyrotechnics, alt.conspiracy, and an online pickup bar reveal a world that isn’t really as nasty, short, and brutish as it wants to be, tending more toward an effluvia of the trite and silly. In fact the direct quotes from on-line discussions are the weakest part of the book, but Ms. Herz saves the day with wit and sass to spare: “It’s not easy being a chick in cyberspace. But I figure a light coating of teenage drool is a small price to pay to be on the edge.”

This book is not so much about “a nethead’s adventure on-line,” as the subtitle declares, as about a sharp, sexy girl at play in a (primarily) boys’ club. What makes it such a fun read is that Ms. Herz actually likes the buttheads. Her amused appreciation of their mix of social awkwardness and technical smarts rubs off on the reader:

Away from the subdivisions of online suburbia, the Net rolls away in vast stretches of coiled copper telephone wire and supports a free-ranging population of info-addicts, Sega warriors, crypto-anarchists, and teen hackers. Forget the media ballyhoo about electronic town halls and virtual parlors; the Net is more saloon than salon. Not too many women in these here parts, scant discussion of philosophy and impressionist paintings, and no tea sandwiches. Rather, much of the Net exudes a ballistic ambiance seldom found outside post-apocalyptic splatterpunk video games. Someone should nail up a sign: “Now entering the Net. Welcome to Boyland. Don’t mind the bodily fluids and cartoon-caliber violence. And if you can’t take someone ripping your arm off and beating you with the bloody stump, go back to where you came from, girlie.”

Surfing never dives any deeper beneath the waves than this. And by the end of the book, one starts wishing that the author would suddenly become a militant Shining Path advocate or suffer a suicidal depression . . . anything to give her book some grounding or ballast. But that would be a violation of the book’s spirit, sort of like trying to thrust Tank Girl into a Bergman flick.

R. U. Sirius is a cofounder of Mondo 2000 and a regular contributor to Japan Esquire, Wave, and Wired magazines. He is the coauthor of How to Mutate & Take Over the World (Ballantine Books) and Cyberpunk Handbook (Random House), both forthcoming in 1995.


J. C. Herz, Surfing on the Internet: A Nethead’s Adventures On-Line (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1995), 321 pages.