Under the Internet

HARD, SOFT AND WET: The Digital Revolution Comes of Age by Melanie McGrath, HarperCollins pounds 5.99

It's a title you could kill for. Subtitled "The Digital Revolution Comes of Age", Hard, Soft and Wet is a travelogue around the frontiers of digital technology, from Internet cafes in Iceland to Moscow programmers making computer viruses. Caught unawares by the speed of the digital revolution - "I feel like a dazzled rabbit caught in headlights, a mere witness to the ballooning din and flux that is digital America" - and "lost in the blizzard of youth culture", the book is as much a journey of selfdiscovery for Melanie McGrath as an exploration of a new technology and a new culture.

McGrath begins her journey in San Francisco, where she is visiting her friend Nancy, who sells software. She ends in Singapore, whose authoritarian, undemocratic, centralised society McGrath takes to be symbolic of the new Internet, dominated by corporate giants like Microsoft and CompuServe. In between she criss-crosses the globe, taking in London, Reykjavik, Berlin, Prague and Moscow, searching out the local digital culture.

McGrath approaches the Internet generation like an anthropologist investigating a strange culture. She is forever the outsider, trying to make sense of a world that "is alien to me". And like an anthropologist going native, McGrath takes Mac, her first e-mail correspondent, as a lover. The crossed lines between 19-year-old Mac, "just risen from childhood", and McGrath, "long-adult with my bluewhite flesh just at the edge of age", symbolises the mutual incomprehensibility of two cultures separated by a generation and a technology. Mac, she observes, is uninterested in her real-life travels. "For Mac, adventures happen in the world beyond the wires. I suppose everything else must seem to him to be some lesser reality."

Hard, Soft and Wet is written with McGrath's usual grace and panache, and flashes of mordant humour. Yet it is a strangely hollow work, for beneath the surface gloss, McGrath affords us little new insight. Reading the book feels a bit like an evening spent surfing the Web - you keep skimming from one flashy site to the next, then end up wondering where you've been all evening.

McGrath isn't sure whether she is writing about digital culture or youth culture. Much of the time she assumes that the two are the same, and that this explains her estrangement from the digital world. But why should this be? Technological revolutions in the past - from the telephone to the television - were neither perceived as, nor were, the property of a particular generation. So why should it seem to us that digital technology belongs to youth?

McGrath makes much of the digital generation's contradictory obsessions with high technology and a romantic yearning for the primitive. She spends a day "skip-raiding" - searching skips for discarded motherboards and modems. One of the skip-raiders tells McGrath that this is his "urban hunter-gatherer ritual" which keeps him "in touch with his primitive side". Mac takes her on an antiroads protest. "I find this anti-car mood of his slightly odd,"McGrath observes, "because he's always seemed so fond of machines." Yet she delves no further to understand why a generation that seems born into the digital revolution should also loathe the machine age.

This might be because of McGrath's sense of the "otherness" of the digital generation. It is as if the two generations are incommensurate, each able to observe the other, even speak to the other, but inhabiting different worlds. McGrath observes, for instance, differences in the nature of protest. "When I was a teenager it was nuclear war and trades unions. These days it's animal rights, antiracism, ecology and homelessness. We didn't really think about that stuff."

Ultimately, McGrath's estrangement seems not so much from the digital generation as from the possibilities of her own future. McGrath sees her flirtation with the digital world as a "nostalgia trip" pulling her "back into her own adolescence". It allowed her to believe that "the future still belonged to me; which of course it doesn't". The future isn't hers, she writes, because "I am no longer adolescent, but fully adult." It seems an uncommonly melancholy attitude, but it's one that fits in well with today's zeitgeist. It used to be that becoming an adult was about taking control of the future. Today it seems to be about giving up on it. Perhaps it would be better if we all stayed adolescent.

Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Arts and Entertainment
Swiss guards stand in the Sistine Chapel, which is to be lit, and protected, by 7,000 LEDs
artSistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer, Lord Alan Sugar, Karren Brady are returning for The Apprentice series 10

TV
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder star in 'Girl, Interrupted'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas Pynchon in 1955, left, and Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of his novel, Inherent Vice

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Nicole Scherzinger will join the cast of Cats

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Fans were left surprised by the death on Sunday night's season 26 premiere

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lady Mary goes hunting with suitor Lord Gillingham

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

    Time to stop running

    At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence