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      home : book reviews : The Age of Wire and String by Ben Marcus

Steven Daly and Nathaniel Wice

Steven Daly and Nathaniel Wice
4th Estate
London 1995

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Future generations may well recall the 90s as the decade that defined itself before it became anything – and that what it became was not much more than a series of groping definitions of itself. alt.culture eschews definition except by implication, being simply a guide to 90s American youth’s iconography and obsessions with only the minimum of commentary and no analysis. The minimalism is refreshing and the definitions are there for the readers to extract. There are entries for everything from Nirvana to Winona Ryder (she gets landed with the description ‘winsome’), the Church of the SubGenius to Processed World, Beavis and Butthead to Beverly Hills 90210. Each entry comes with information about relevant Internet resources and, true to the book’s Website aspirations, there are cute – but for obvious reasons, only partially useful – hypertext-style highlights so you can cross-refer your way through the pages. The emphasis is on Americana though few of the entries will be new to British Internet users, the Internet being the prime obsession of the decade and chief repository for details of its youth’s iconography.

Entertaining and informative, alt.culture is probably more definitive that its authors are willing to claim and as a coffee-table book for hip young things with time on their hands, it is as good as you can hope for. For seasoned Internet users, however, the book points to nothing so much as its own redundancy. The authors contrive to be more or less comprehensive, best efforts have been made to keep the Internet resource listings up-to-date on publication, but in the end the book can’t compete with the promised alt.culture Website. The ersatz hypertext highlighting had my mouse hand itching to click, but with the result that my overriding feeling while reading this was of holding a lifeless thing in my hands. The book as a cultural artefact is a long way from being dead, but the message here is that the book should probably stick to doing what it does best – text without the hyper.

Reviewed by Steven Kelly


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