Print Reviews

by Tor Hyams and David Scharff

Four Walls Eight Windows 1999

I’m a pretty techy guy, and I’ll admit that my fascination with the web is not so much with the content itself (though there is plenty of good stuff out there) but with a medium that seems to be unfolding and becoming self-aware. Most interesting of all is the truly paradoxical nature of its permanence. You can wander about an online magazine’s website and access their collected output for a number of years, instead of being limited to whatever issue is on the newsstand. At the same time, you may hit that enter key one day and get nothing but an error message. So in a way, a book that compiles reviews of websites makes about as much sense as a field guide to raindrops.

The true value of , which collects said reviews by Hyams and Scharff along with some very strange and uncategorizable entertainment, comes from establishing a baseline for online criticism. You can be fierce, useful, not quite, ridiculous or (worst of all) unfierce. Yet another interesting feature of the web emerges from the pattern of reviews: at its heart, the web is a completely level playing field. As much money as an organization like CBS can throw into their website, they still can’t guarantee that the pixels on your screen will be any more enjoyable than some schmoe with an AOL account and a bitter disposition could make them. If this were true in print, you could run a zine off the finest sheet-fed press for the same money as your clandestine Kinko’s copies.

So really is worth reading, despite its being a deeply sarcastic printed guide to an infinite virtual library. Who cares that only the biggest of the sites they mention (who seem to get panned with far more zest) will survive the relentless pace of technology? Giggle and snicker at the sheer audacity, as pointed out by Hyams and Scharff, of garbage being paraded as a daily destination. You’ll find your fair share of worthy URLs here, but more importantly, you’ll gain the discrimination to get past the ultra-optimized graphics and Java crapplets and decide for yourself if a site is worth the bandwidth.

Four Walls Eight Windows, 39 West 14th Street, Room 503, New York, NY 10011

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