Wilson da Silva

Science journalist, feature writer and editor.

Oct 1, 1996
Published on: The Age
1 min read

By WILSON da SILVA

WANNA be a cyberpunk but don’t even own a modem? Have we got a book for you. It’s called The Net-Head Handbook, and it has got to be the bluffer’s guide to Internet chic. 

This 144-page “deadware” (i.e. paper) guide is not only a quick introduction to the Internet, it also cuts straight to the chase. It moves swiftly from warm-up topics like “What is a Net-Head” straight to Internet shopping.

There are sections on “flaming” (abusive electronic mail) to “fone phreaking” (hacking telephone accounts), on-line music and even e-mail sex.

Some of the anonymous material from the Net also finds its way on to the pages: my favourite is “The Top Six Ways Things Would Be Different If Microsoft Built Cars” (eg. 3. The oil, alternator, petrol and engine warning lights would be replaced by a single “General Protection Fault” warning light).

To boot, it has handy summaries of salient historical and personality moments in the development of computers and the Net.

The writing style is fun, at times anarchic, and rarely steps over the line into “tragic hip’. I suspect that’s because it doesn’t take itself too seriously which, given the over-hyped nature of the Net is, well, refreshing.

This is not quite a “Danny Dunn Goes Into Cyberspace” guide. It is meant for consenting adults who want to explore the Internet in the privacy of their own homes. Consquently, there’s a healthy number of pages dedicated to the pursuit of matters of the flesh, right down to examples of Internet chat-ups and the sort of things you would find in kinky newsgroups and web-page FAQs (frequently asked questions). Decency (and the law) prevent this newspaper from discussing such matters further, and certainly from listing the Web sites. Books, it would seem, are exempt.

Although it is partly a guide for “newbies” (those new to the Net), it is also daubed with the kind of handy pointers and amusing (as well as occasionally eyebrow-raising) facts from which aficionados could learn.

Don’t expect Wired; the graphics are black and white and the paper stock a little rough. But it does have a lot of amusing cartoons which try to sum up elements of Net cool and uncool.

For those who actually do have modems and computers, and who decide they want to take a ride on the Infobahn after all, there are two diskettes at the back that are your ticket to ride. They offer an Internet account and access package run by IBM, which includes an Internet dialer, electronic mail and newsgroup readers, the Netscape Navigator Web browser and a number of games. All up, a quick guide to all that’s hot and all that’s not on the Net.

Our Rating
The Net-Head Handbook: “The first guide to computer chic”
Platform: Softcover book + two 3.5-inch diskettes
System requirements: English/Windows 95 or 3.1
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
Rating: ****
Price: $24.95.