In her introduction to this collection of short essays, Canadian journalist Paule des Rivières asks for a roundup of the unkept promises and the new challenges facing the Internet and the World Wide Web. Has the world become more democratic, and has the distance between governments and citizens really shrunk? Is the Internet economy just an inflated idea that has all but collapsed in the early years of this century, or is there a future yet? Does the future of cyberspace lie in new modes of creativity and multidisciplinary scientific research? How are we going to direct the ever faster movement of information along the super-highway?
In the spring of 2002, these questions were posed to a number of more or less distinguished artists, authors, philosophers and scientists from four continents, and the answers were published in the French-Canadian newspaper Le devoir. Now, 27 essays have been brought together in this wide-ranging lucky bag. This is not intended disrespectfully, but a collection of 27 essays of less than nine pages on average and on a range of topics from the myths of the cyber-economy to the nature of the universe, the future of on-line education and the development of new modes of authoring must have something for all. This is a strength as well as a weakness. Its strength lies in the fact that an uninformed reader at least gets to know what the issues are. In a very readable format, all philosophical, political, artistic and scientific facets of the current state of the cyberworld are covered.
However, the strength of a chain depends on the weakest of its links, and that is certainly true for this volume. Some of the contributions are of prime quality. Jacques Nantel, professor of e-commerce at the Ecole des hautes études commerciales de Montréal (School for Higher Business Studies) does an excellent job of assessing the alleged virtues of e-business, and Diana Domingues from the Universidade Caxias do Sol in Brazil writes convincingly and lucidly about one aspect of art and magic in cyberspace. These are just two of the stronger links, and there are many others.
On the negative side, there are some very, very poor contributions that I would put down to an uninformed or unlucky choice of authors. Surely, more and better things have been written about cyberdemocracy and the Digital Divide or on the reality of the virtual?
Fortunately, only a small number of essays are really below standard, and this is compensated for by a number of really outstanding, original and often humorous pieces. [End Page 259]