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Richard Thieme's Islands in the Clickstream: Reflections on Life in a Virtual World [Paperback]

Richard Thieme
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Aug. 1 2004 1931836221 978-1931836227 1
CNN called Richard Thieme "a member of the cyber avant-garde". Digital Delirium named him "one of the most creative minds of the digital generation". Now Richard Thieme's wisdom on the social and cultural dimensions of technology is available in a single volume. "Islands in the Clickstream" ranges beyond the impact of technology to spirituality, psychological insight, and social commentary. Now that people are used to living in virtual worlds and move easily between online and offline worlds, they want to connect that experience to the deeper issues of our lives, including spiritual issues. Some examples include "Dreams Engineers Have", "The Crazy Lady on the Treadmill", and "Whistleblowers and Team Players". These essays raise serious questions for thoughtful readers. They have attracted favorable commentary from around the world and a fanatic, almost rabid fan base.

* This author has become an extremely popular and highly visible talking head. He is a rare "personality" in the otherwise bland world of technology commentators.

* The book leverages the loyalty of his audience in the same way Bill O'Reilly's "The O'Reilly Factor" and Al Franken's "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them" do.

* The book is an easy read intended to provoke thought, discussion and disagreement.

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Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
This is how the Internet works: Somebody in Kentucky finds one of my columns and asks newsletter. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt
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Customer Reviews

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4.8 out of 5 stars
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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Secular sermons July 10 2004
Format:Paperback
A set of secular sermons by a well known commentator on technology and its impact on society. The book reprints essays penned over the last ten years. The core theme seems to be the continuing rise of the Internet and how this can reshape even our perceptions of ourselves and of a new communal 'virtual' reality.
I would compare his essays to those of George Gilder. But whereas Gilder's writings tend to sound breathless and stuffed with a thicket of arcane and complex technology, Thieme's musings stroll along at a more leisurely pace. A pleasant countryside walk, instead of a dash on a freeway. Thieme talks to a general audience.
But for programmers, there is one specific point that I found spot on. He suggests that programmers who use only one language are not fully programming. It is very hard for them to see the limitations inherent in that language. 'When we learn a second language, we see other ways of framing reality. Then we can make choices.' So for example, if you know only C++, then you think multiple inheritance is logical and natural. But then you know not of Java, which is also Object Oriented, but forbids multiple inheritance, and yet has been very successful. Likewise, knowing only Java might not let you appreciate the templates of C++.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Finally! July 7 2004
Format:Paperback
As a security professional and a man who cares about more than the material world, I've been waiting for this to be published for a long time. I've attended DefCon solely to hear Richard speak and have never been disappointed. His writing insightfully uncovers some of the most important contemporary issues regarding technology, politics and spirituality. In dark times, his writings are where I turn for solace and inspiration. Whether you are a techie or not, if you live in the 21st century, you need to read what this man has to say.
Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars Stretch Your Mind-- Great Genius at Work July 8 2004
Format:Paperback
I've been reading Richard's essays since he started writing them. At last--now a collection that is bound and can replace my 3-ring notebook of his wisdom. Reading Richard is like playing up in tennis: he makes you stretch to find a new place to land a winning idea. His prose calls to mind the best of fiction and non-fiction authors. His metaphors are powerful. And his insights are deep. If you want shallow writing--go elsewhere. You won't find it here.
Be prepared for truth. It's a rare commodity these days.
Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars In Transit July 18 2004
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
"Enjoy the journey. Be prepared for the detours. Always look back where you came from". These words, by my late father come to mind as I read Islands in the Clickstream.
Richard Thieme has earned his 'wings' in cyberspace.
He shares his intelligence - his brilliance, really - as he steers his starship through these diverse Islands.
A long time online reader, I am so glad he finally published Islands in the Clickstream as a book so his reflections can be shared with the world. J.L. Marais
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  16 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Secular sermons July 10 2004
By W Boudville - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A set of secular sermons by a well known commentator on technology and its impact on society. The book reprints essays penned over the last ten years. The core theme seems to be the continuing rise of the Internet and how this can reshape even our perceptions of ourselves and of a new communal 'virtual' reality.
I would compare his essays to those of George Gilder. But whereas Gilder's writings tend to sound breathless and stuffed with a thicket of arcane and complex technology, Thieme's musings stroll along at a more leisurely pace. A pleasant countryside walk, instead of a dash on a freeway. Thieme talks to a general audience.
But for programmers, there is one specific point that I found spot on. He suggests that programmers who use only one language are not fully programming. It is very hard for them to see the limitations inherent in that language. 'When we learn a second language, we see other ways of framing reality. Then we can make choices.' So for example, if you know only C++, then you think multiple inheritance is logical and natural. But then you know not of Java, which is also Object Oriented, but forbids multiple inheritance, and yet has been very successful. Likewise, knowing only Java might not let you appreciate the templates of C++.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In Transit July 18 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
"Enjoy the journey. Be prepared for the detours. Always look back where you came from". These words, by my late father come to mind as I read Islands in the Clickstream.
Richard Thieme has earned his 'wings' in cyberspace.
He shares his intelligence - his brilliance, really - as he steers his starship through these diverse Islands.
A long time online reader, I am so glad he finally published Islands in the Clickstream as a book so his reflections can be shared with the world. J.L. Marais
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally! July 7 2004
By "raymond_p" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
As a security professional and a man who cares about more than the material world, I've been waiting for this to be published for a long time. I've attended DefCon solely to hear Richard speak and have never been disappointed. His writing insightfully uncovers some of the most important contemporary issues regarding technology, politics and spirituality. In dark times, his writings are where I turn for solace and inspiration. Whether you are a techie or not, if you live in the 21st century, you need to read what this man has to say.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stretch Your Mind-- Great Genius at Work July 8 2004
By Eileen McDargh - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I've been reading Richard's essays since he started writing them. At last--now a collection that is bound and can replace my 3-ring notebook of his wisdom. Reading Richard is like playing up in tennis: he makes you stretch to find a new place to land a winning idea. His prose calls to mind the best of fiction and non-fiction authors. His metaphors are powerful. And his insights are deep. If you want shallow writing--go elsewhere. You won't find it here.
Be prepared for truth. It's a rare commodity these days.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing book--don't miss it! Nov. 4 2004
By Hilary Caws-Elwitt - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
It took me a long time to digest this book, which is jam-packed with quoteable insights, new perspectives on familiar ideas, and inspiring thoughts. Reading this collection of essays, which were written as periodic email columns over a span of seven years, felt like trying to eat a rich, dense dessert in one sitting. This is a book that should be savored slowly--by everyone who has any connection to technology. It's an amazing work.

I can't think of any book that's quite like Islands in the Clickstream--it doesn't fit into any established categories. Syngress Press, the publishers, describe themselves as providing "Career Advancement Through Skill Enhancement," and say it should be shelved in "Computers/General." But what this book actually contains is a collection of secular sermons. They fill the niche of an idealized homily--a short talk that reconnects its listeners to a larger context for their daily lives, inspires them to be better people, and makes them think about deeper issues than the everyday grind--but without any religious context, and addressing technology specifically. Thieme says "...these are sermons...in the sense that sermons form and inform a community that chooses to gather to hear them." It's not too surprising, then, that Thieme tells us he was an Episcopalian priest for sixteen years.

These essays do have a few flaws I associate with a genre like sermons, ie basically ephemeral and not designed to be read en masse--sometimes there's a palpable stretch for the inevitable clever final sentence, and we get some repetition of favorite concepts and quotes like "sanity is contextual." There's also a hint of bombast, not exactly pretentiousness, but a weakness for over-stated metaphors and over-heated symbolism. Thieme's got a liberal hand with buzzwords: nexus, fractal, cyborg, panoptic, granular, convergence, paradigm, morphing, etc. I also think he's barking up the wrong tree in one or two essays where he talks about UFOs and remote sensing, but he's not credulous by any means.

These are minor quibbles. To give an idea of how much this book impressed me: I typically collect a quote or two from a book I read. A great book will yield four to six. I copied down about FIFTY quotes from Islands in the Clickstream--new ideas, brilliant encapsulations of thoughts that have vaguely crossed my mind, inspirational statements. Here's just a small sampling:

"The edge is the new center. The center of a web is wherever we are."

"When things are going well, accountability diminishes. Then when things don't go well, there's chaos." (written in 1997, with a prescient reference to the financial tech bubble)

"'Out of the box' thinking is just a name for climbing out of one box into a little bit bigger box."

"Good tools work regardless of why we say they work. Technical tools and spiritual tools alike."

"That's the problem with oracular truth: the opposite is nearly always just as true. Oracular truth is more like a mobius strip than a yes/no binary system."

If you're someone who's been involved with computers long enough that "hacker" doesn't sound like a dirty word, you'll feel like Thieme is speaking directly to you. If you ever wonder about the effect of technology on how we think and communicate, you'll find a lot of food for thought here. If you're professionally involved with the Internet in any way (as a techie or in business), you ought to read this book. If you're looking for inspiration to be a better person, without being expected to believe in a personal god, check this out.

I would love to hear Thieme speak. He seems like a truly amazing person. (...)

Review cross-posted from <a href="[...]">Blogcritics</a> and <a href="[...]">my book blog</a>.
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