Hot Best Seller

Breathing Machine: A Memoir of Computers

Availability: Ready to download

What if there were a world bigger than the one you can touch?Leigh Alexander recounts a stormy adolescence alongside the mysterious early internet. From the surrealism of early video games to raw connections made over primitive newsgroups, from sex bots to Sailor Moon, Alexander intimately captures a dark frontier age.Leigh Alexander writes about video games, interactive entertainment, and vaage.Leightouch?Leigh What if there were a world bigger than the one you can touch?Leigh Alexander recounts a stormy adolescence alongside the mysterious early internet. From the surrealism of early video games to raw connections made over primitive newsgroups, from sex bots to Sailor Moon, Alexander intimately captures a dark frontier age.Leigh Alexander writes about video games, interactive entertainment, and various other things. As longtime editor-at-large for game industry site Gamasutra, she contributes editorial, criticism, trend analysis and interviews with developers. Her monthly column in Edge magazine deals with cultural issues surrounding the business of games and the people who play them. Her column at Kotaku is weirder. In a good way, probably.Her features appear at Polygon and Boing Boing, and she likes to write about feelings and social media at Thought Catalog. She used to be NYLON Guys’ games editor, did a biweekly column at Vice’s Creators Project focused on neat trends in independent game development, and has contributed to Slate, The New Inquiry, Wired, The New Statesman, The Guardian, the Columbia Journalism Review, Paste, Rock Paper Shotgun, and numerous others.She frequently speaks at conferences with particular attention to games for social good, feminism and increased diversity in tech spaces, where she usually talks with an excess of speed. She swears it’s driven by enthusiasm. Back in the day she once led an entire conference summit on avatar-based interaction in virtual spaces.


Compare

What if there were a world bigger than the one you can touch?Leigh Alexander recounts a stormy adolescence alongside the mysterious early internet. From the surrealism of early video games to raw connections made over primitive newsgroups, from sex bots to Sailor Moon, Alexander intimately captures a dark frontier age.Leigh Alexander writes about video games, interactive entertainment, and vaage.Leightouch?Leigh What if there were a world bigger than the one you can touch?Leigh Alexander recounts a stormy adolescence alongside the mysterious early internet. From the surrealism of early video games to raw connections made over primitive newsgroups, from sex bots to Sailor Moon, Alexander intimately captures a dark frontier age.Leigh Alexander writes about video games, interactive entertainment, and various other things. As longtime editor-at-large for game industry site Gamasutra, she contributes editorial, criticism, trend analysis and interviews with developers. Her monthly column in Edge magazine deals with cultural issues surrounding the business of games and the people who play them. Her column at Kotaku is weirder. In a good way, probably.Her features appear at Polygon and Boing Boing, and she likes to write about feelings and social media at Thought Catalog. She used to be NYLON Guys’ games editor, did a biweekly column at Vice’s Creators Project focused on neat trends in independent game development, and has contributed to Slate, The New Inquiry, Wired, The New Statesman, The Guardian, the Columbia Journalism Review, Paste, Rock Paper Shotgun, and numerous others.She frequently speaks at conferences with particular attention to games for social good, feminism and increased diversity in tech spaces, where she usually talks with an excess of speed. She swears it’s driven by enthusiasm. Back in the day she once led an entire conference summit on avatar-based interaction in virtual spaces.

30 review for Breathing Machine: A Memoir of Computers

  1. 5 out of 5

    astrid

    i dunno why alexander's so divisive, even among people who have never, ever worn a fedora in their lives; i mean I get not liking her style, but the vitriol... this is a perfect little gem of a book (a "hard, pungent knuckle" of literary weed, to borrow her phrase) that makes me wish it was three times as long. it's got the same early-internet nostalgia as christine love's "digital: a love story," and the poetic, pithy punch of alexander's best writing is here in spades. to give yours i dunno why alexander's so divisive, even among people who have never, ever worn a fedora in their lives; i mean I get not liking her style, but the vitriol... this is a perfect little gem of a book (a "hard, pungent knuckle" of literary weed, to borrow her phrase) that makes me wish it was three times as long. it's got the same early-internet nostalgia as christine love's "digital: a love story," and the poetic, pithy punch of alexander's best writing is here in spades. to give yourself over to alexander's work, her heartfelt stuff like the lo-fi let's plays and this book, is to be intimate with her thoughts. she doesn't care about removing herself from her criticism; her criticism, like that of jenn frank and cara ellison and others, is innately hers, a thing you can see roiling and evolving even as you read the finished product. it trips over itself; it backtracks; it debates. it's essential. hardly anyone writes game criticism unless they love it and alexander's no exception. now just give me this thing in print so i can dog-ear the shit out of it.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Patrick

    This is a short, eloquent and reflective ebook which feels a little like two long essays combined into one slim volume. One of those is a memoir of the author’s experiences growing up in the digital era; and the other is an appraisal of the state of online discourse, a summary of where it has been and where it might be heading. It’s well written and certainly thought provoking, if rather short and ultimately limited in its suggestive capacity; I’d certainly recommend it to anyone interested in t This is a short, eloquent and reflective ebook which feels a little like two long essays combined into one slim volume. One of those is a memoir of the author’s experiences growing up in the digital era; and the other is an appraisal of the state of online discourse, a summary of where it has been and where it might be heading. It’s well written and certainly thought provoking, if rather short and ultimately limited in its suggestive capacity; I’d certainly recommend it to anyone interested in that period of internet culture, but while it’s a potent and passionate monologue, it lacks a distinctive thesis. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. After all, this isn’t a dissertation, nor is it exactly journalism; it’s just a nice slab of good writing. I’d be hard pressed to summarise this book in a sentence: it starts and there are a number of beautiful moments, and then it eventually just kind of stops? There’s the suggestion that more could follow, I suppose, as if whatever the author wrote next would just carry on in this vein — and actually that would be a very fine thing, as I quite like this model of short, cheap downloads as a method of publication. Anyway, I’ve been a fan of Leigh Alexander’s writing on video games for a while, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that this doesn’t have all that much to do with games. Much of the content of the memoir passages is admirably frank, and the feel of it was in many ways familiar to me; while I’m sure we come from totally different places, I too was raised on a nascent internet of webrings and Geocities and shareware and strange, doomed little fan communities. It was a place where I found solace, I suppose, at a time when I wasn’t an especially happy person. But even while I find nostalgic recollections of this period compelling, I absolutely agree with the author’s assessment that much of the worst excesses of our digital culture can be attributed to other boys and girls like me (mostly boys) who never quite left that world behind. Who still feel they have to behave like maniac visionary outsiders even after they’ve grown up, got jobs, started families, and who feel the need to ascribe their own motivations to psychic wounds sustained during childhood. It’s a tendency I recognise in myself, and one which I try to resist. I don’t really believe that people ‘grow up’; you just get older, and have to learn to live with yourself from one day to the next without being too much of a terrible person. Most of all I liked the author’s preoccupation with the notion of a lost mystery of the internet. At one point she fondly recalls stumbling upon what used to be hosted at ‘hell.com’, an odd site which no longer exists in its original form, but was once something like a fairly abstract and menacing work of installation art. Sites like this still exist, but as she points out, they’re more likely to be created for viral marketing, or an ARG for some hot new movie or video game; here today, spoiled and forgotten tomorrow. There are some exceptions — @horse_ebooks is fondly cited — but for the most part it seems like the internet is a tidier and better-known place than what it once was. Or maybe not; maybe the mystery is still there and it’s just harder to find. After all, a domain name like ‘hell.com’ would surely be snapped up by somebody with something to sell these days; but there’s still people out there making fascinating and weird things. The question that came to my mind by the time I finished this book was how to bring that mystery to an audience without compromising what made it entrancing in the first place. While traditional media remains a profitable opportunity for some, there’s a sense in which it won’t do for many more for much longer; the internet has given a voice to a much broader range of different people than was ever possible in human history, and the form which these voices will take and the technologies which mediate them will shape our culture for years to come.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Borgard

    Leigh Alexander has long been one of my favorite writers on the Internet. I originally found her on Kotaku (where she still occasionally contributes), where her pieces on story, diversity and exploration in gaming serve as stellar counterpoints to the dudebro commenters giggling over "make me a sammich" jokes and wondering why anyone cares about that whole feminism thing. Her announcement, seemingly out of nowhere, that she'd written a memoir about her youthful relationship to technol Leigh Alexander has long been one of my favorite writers on the Internet. I originally found her on Kotaku (where she still occasionally contributes), where her pieces on story, diversity and exploration in gaming serve as stellar counterpoints to the dudebro commenters giggling over "make me a sammich" jokes and wondering why anyone cares about that whole feminism thing. Her announcement, seemingly out of nowhere, that she'd written a memoir about her youthful relationship to technology had me salivating (even if those dastardly Apple users got the book a few days earlier than I did). Anyone who's a fan of Alexander needs no convincing -- Breathing Machine is the Leigh you know and love. What about for everyone else? Well, it depends. I say "it depends" not to disparage Alexander or her writing, but only to point out that the book is a very personal, very time-specific piece of writing. It's not about computers as much as it is about interaction -- interaction with machines, and our interaction with each other through machines, the evolution of which occurred mainly in the early to mid-nineties, when the Internet came out of universities and basements, but wasn't quite mainstream yet. To anyone who was an adult during this time, it likely seems a lot less mystical. To anyone born afterward, being entranced by text games and seedy chatrooms probably sounds a bit silly. But to those of us in adolescence in that oh so perfect and mysterious time period, we understand. We understand GOing NORTH to PUNCH RATs. We understand the allure of anime, traded on IRC and watched in dark rooms with shitty projectors and shittier subtitles, back before anime was a billion dollar craze in the Western world. We understand pretending to be Final Fantasy and Dragon Ball Z characters, creating a world together and taking epic actions while ::speaking in brackets::. The reminiscing reminded me of one of my most poignant online experiences, one that still sticks with me to this day. I remember being in class (sixth grade, maybe?) and being encouraged to participate in an international pen pal program. I didn't. What would I talk about? I asked myself. What would I say to someone a world away that wouldn't sound trite and ignorant? A few days later, I logged onto one of my favorite chatrooms to talk about whatever miscellany normally occupied us (probably video games, anime and porn). I got into a discussion with one particularly brusque fellow about some minor Final Fantasy plot point, and when he declared he needed to get ready for work in the middle of the night, I discovered he lived in Australia. In one fell swoop, the entire concept of pen pals was obsolete. It's easy to take for granted how much the Internet has expanded the scope of our social interactions, but for 13-year-old me, it was astounding. These are the memories Alexander's book forces me to regurgitate. It might be fair to criticize the book as overly nostalgic. After all, who would go back to AOL chatrooms, given the choice? But though Alexander recalls her electric explorations fondly, she never pretends they were perfect, and doesn't assert that we could or should go back, even if they were. She does end on a somewhat sad note by pointing out some troubling trends in the evolution of technology. Our shared language that was once used to build a community is now used to exclude those who look like past (or even imagined) tormentors. We erect barriers, not welcome mats. And the moneyed interests prey on our fears, make us suspicious of Outsiders so that we might buy, buy, buy in order to protect our Cred. Breathing Machine is not a long book. It is not a thematically challenging book. You will not learn any grand truths reading this book. There are no historical tidbits or shocking answers to big questions. You may, however, recognize yourself in the author. And that in itself can be a sobering experience.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Dan Archer

    If I was to take time to document my memories of growing up with computers, I'd hope it was as interesting as this. It wouldn't be, of course, not just because my writing ability isn't up to it, but mostly due to my childhood being full of mundane things like MSN Messenger. Yet, reading through Leigh's account of her time spent in front of a screen I couldn't help but think about my own childhood with similarly glamorous vocabulary. It's a fascinating account to read if only the way it reminded If I was to take time to document my memories of growing up with computers, I'd hope it was as interesting as this. It wouldn't be, of course, not just because my writing ability isn't up to it, but mostly due to my childhood being full of mundane things like MSN Messenger. Yet, reading through Leigh's account of her time spent in front of a screen I couldn't help but think about my own childhood with similarly glamorous vocabulary. It's a fascinating account to read if only the way it reminded me that I will have to explain so much to my children. The sound of a modem; what a floppy disc was; that games existed before graphics cards; how to use the command line. The list could go on. It will be like when my dad gets excited talking about when he used Nixie tube calculators at University. What if they're not interested? All that is to come I suppose, but in the meantime I can enjoy feeling like I was part of a special moment in time when Computers and the Internet moved from obscure to all-encompassing the way we live. For now I still get to think of my youthful self as an intrepid explorer of the digital age. To me, that's what this little book is about. The only regret I have in reading this is just how old it makes me feel. Was it really that long ago that I used to feign illness to spend more time playing RuneScape?

  5. 4 out of 5

    Apa

    A sort of a short biography, Alexander's book (short story? pamphlet? what do you call this?) captures growing up with and experiencing digital/virtual environment, entertainment and community. This really hits home with me, chapter after chapter I was saying in my mind "I was there". If you expected to like Ready Player One but didn't, read this instead.

  6. 5 out of 5

    kat

    A sweet and engagingly-written little nostalgia trip for those who grew up in the early days of computers. Enough of this is eerily reminiscent of my own history that I don't really know if anyone else would "get" it.

  7. 5 out of 5

    James

    (3.5*) This is an entirely biased rating and review. I can't do anything else, because oh dear, this book is too close to home. OK, to disclaim: I am actually younger than Alexander, and didn't get started online until around 2000, and computers themselves in 98/99. Nonetheless, even if I missed out on some of the things she discusses in this brief book, like two-colour displays and truly enormous machines and ADVENT and such, I still eke into the era she discusses, and cer (3.5*) This is an entirely biased rating and review. I can't do anything else, because oh dear, this book is too close to home. OK, to disclaim: I am actually younger than Alexander, and didn't get started online until around 2000, and computers themselves in 98/99. Nonetheless, even if I missed out on some of the things she discusses in this brief book, like two-colour displays and truly enormous machines and ADVENT and such, I still eke into the era she discusses, and certainly occupied a similar place online. I had a father who worked in computing at that time. We always had access to a dedicated phone line for internet. I snuck any extra minute I could. I spent half my life on forums and chatrooms, playing those odd games of mine and looking up the weirdness of the just about pre-mainstream internet with perhaps a bit less supervision than was advisable. I grew up in a pretty poor area and amongst people without the benefit of unusually computer-literate parents. It was a pretty special thing I had and was doing, even if it wasn't always good-special. Certainly it gave me some modicum of connection to the world when I felt trapped by my unpopularity in the village. All this is to say, I can't judge this book from any kind of distance simply because I'm too excited to see someone lay out a firsthand account of the oddness and newness and awfulness and wonder of those early years of the world wide web, and what it actually means to have so intensely fallen into it at an inadvisably young age and to then watch those elements gently fade away. I don't often run into even geeks of my own age whose experience runs quite so far back. It's nice to have a friend in this book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Al

    Closer to the older boundary of the sweet-spot of audiences this book likely resonates with, the early chapters rekindled the allure of the electronic frontier... memories of impossibly late nights exploring the caliginous corners of this fantastic world that a Commodore 64 and a 300 baud modem could unveil. For me (and I would guess for many technophiles in a similar age group) this feeling always tears a thick scab off of a wellspring of regret... I didn't have an ecommerce startup. Closer to the older boundary of the sweet-spot of audiences this book likely resonates with, the early chapters rekindled the allure of the electronic frontier... memories of impossibly late nights exploring the caliginous corners of this fantastic world that a Commodore 64 and a 300 baud modem could unveil. For me (and I would guess for many technophiles in a similar age group) this feeling always tears a thick scab off of a wellspring of regret... I didn't have an ecommerce startup. I didn't ride a dot com bubble. I wasn't the first to harness any of the remarkable potential at the time untapped. Alexander's perspective on that period sheds a new light on that old ache. Harnessing that potential? It also squeezed the magic out of that frontier. It replaced the MUD (multi-user dungeon) with the MPP (monthly pay-to-play). The online society in which I donated umpteen hours of programming to improve an online community was replaced with the well-polished marketing machine designed to part me from my cash. It was cathartic, in a way, to read this. I regret less those missed opportunities, and appreciate more my own meager contributions to the wonder that was. And I suspect, without very much work, the wonder that was there can still be found again. The internet is probably a lot like me... the responsibilities, financial focus and tedium of adult life are wrapped around a core of childhood that revels in the mystery of the undiscovered and appreciates the value of unrealized potential.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    This book turned out to be something wildly different than what I thought it would be. Mainly it's a bunch of essays about how disturbing people are online when they feel they are anonymous. It's very well written; the author can put words together with artistic skill, but I was incredibly depressed after reading this. I expected a memoir of the technologies of the time, and what I found was more a chronicle of the sickos of the world. One old internet friend was characterized as bein This book turned out to be something wildly different than what I thought it would be. Mainly it's a bunch of essays about how disturbing people are online when they feel they are anonymous. It's very well written; the author can put words together with artistic skill, but I was incredibly depressed after reading this. I expected a memoir of the technologies of the time, and what I found was more a chronicle of the sickos of the world. One old internet friend was characterized as being boring because he'd gotten married and had a kid and “lost his spark”. Truthfully that guy probably just figured out all the crap he and his friends had wasted years of their lives on was stupid. Losing your spark, growing up, whatever. I wanted to like this, and I don't. I can't. It's very well written and it makes me want to never know any of the people described within its pages. It shouldn't have the subtitle “A memoir of computers”, because it's really a memoir about the black hearts of people reveling in the cesspool of the Internet's darkest corners.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Alexia

    Breathing Machine is a nostalgic book, a moving look back to a childhood deeply tied with computers and the progress of the culture surrounding them. I am younger than Leigh Alexander, but her vivid descriptions reminded me of my own childhood as well. Along the way, Leigh writes, among other things, about her early experiences online, about memories we all share (what was the first gruesome picture you saw online?), about virtual spaces and the human need for escapism. I am always impressed by Breathing Machine is a nostalgic book, a moving look back to a childhood deeply tied with computers and the progress of the culture surrounding them. I am younger than Leigh Alexander, but her vivid descriptions reminded me of my own childhood as well. Along the way, Leigh writes, among other things, about her early experiences online, about memories we all share (what was the first gruesome picture you saw online?), about virtual spaces and the human need for escapism. I am always impressed by Leigh's writing, and Breathing Machine was no exception. It is emotional and very poetic, but without feeling constructed or melodramatic.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Murphy

    A short book about growing up with computers and being female - although this is wisely considered two topics instead of one by the author. It has a slow start and builds to an angry, throaty roar by the last chapter. Prior to reading this, I had never considered how profoundly the lack of even a slow dial-up connection in my childhood home shaped my earliest computing experiences. That assumption of isolation continues to inform my technological expectations in the present, even as I A short book about growing up with computers and being female - although this is wisely considered two topics instead of one by the author. It has a slow start and builds to an angry, throaty roar by the last chapter. Prior to reading this, I had never considered how profoundly the lack of even a slow dial-up connection in my childhood home shaped my earliest computing experiences. That assumption of isolation continues to inform my technological expectations in the present, even as I thumbtype this onto the face of a wifi connected tablet. Very interesting reading.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Christina

    I came across this quick read through an excerpt on BoingBoing, and it turned out to be one of the most engaging books I've read in the last year or so. If you "grew up internet" in the 90s, this speaks to a lovely nostalgia for a different frontier/era of interacting with each other via machines. It resonated with me quite a bit, and it made me wonder whether or not those slightly older than me have the same sort of starry memories of that era, or if I just came across that new world at the rig I came across this quick read through an excerpt on BoingBoing, and it turned out to be one of the most engaging books I've read in the last year or so. If you "grew up internet" in the 90s, this speaks to a lovely nostalgia for a different frontier/era of interacting with each other via machines. It resonated with me quite a bit, and it made me wonder whether or not those slightly older than me have the same sort of starry memories of that era, or if I just came across that new world at the right impressionable age.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Craig

    Another great piece of writing by Leigh Alexander! If you grew up with games and technology then you will see a lot of yourself in this book. She manages to capture the feeling I had growing up in ways I could never express. It is also a partial biography, and her life, and the way she rights about it, always make me want to know more. Like Clipping Through, the only real problem I have is I want more! :)

  14. 5 out of 5

    Bastian Greshake Tzovaras

    Basically a book about the coming of age in the earlier days of the world wide web (aka the 90ies). I seem to be a tad younger than the author but the general pictures is pretty comparable and it's close enough to invoke some kind of dark nostalgia. Recommended for: People who felt ostracized by their local community and instead chose to grow up amongst text adventures and newsgroups, occasionally looking at Goatse and tubgirl.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ross

    Left me wondering to what degree the general dissipation of childhood's mysteries during the journey to adulthood was mirrored - even amplified - for an entire generation which grew up straddling a similar technological arc.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Allison Lara

    Fantastic, short, punchy memoir of growing up with computers during the nascent web and mainstream internet cultures. Replace some of the technology with the local BBS and MU* games and it could have been me.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Alyssa

    Through insightful ruminations and anecdotes, Leigh has perfectly captured a unique period in time that means a lot to a specific generation of people -- those of us who grew up with computers at the beginning of the information age.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Snawlz

    Leigh Alexander cleaves right to the heart of a certain kind of upbringing: the small-town child looking through the window of their computer to a bigger world, growing up with bulletin board services and screeching modems. How many of us followed the same path, beat for beat?

  19. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Scott Hildebrandt

    It appears that I probably don't need to write a memoir, because Leigh Alexander has already done it. It's a little inaccessible and assumes you're familiar with a lot of the stuff she's writing about, but most of it was like staring into a mirror.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Corey

    This book, provided you were born in a certain chronological range, is sure to elicit memories of growing up in a strange world of late-night ICQ chats and endless exploring of webrings. It's a short read, but each chapter is packed with fond musings on a tech-riddled adolescence.

  21. 4 out of 5

    James

    A charming memoir evolves into a vibrant study of our virtual lives.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Meitzler

    A great memoir of growing up in the Internet age that's as poignant as it is critical. A quick read, but filled with plenty of insight.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jordan Cox

    this was fantastic, beautifully captured how life online felt in the 1990s if you were an adolescent & teenager, written with economy and grace.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    A rapid, glowing flight through an experience of a time. Once AltaVista sent me a 36" television because I collected enough points.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ango Bango

    A short, wonderfully written book recalling the personal experiences the author had growing up with, and alongside, the internet and computers.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    A personal memoir about growing up with computers and the internet which I found both familiar and quite different from my own experience.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jay Gabler

    A consistently engaging, if slightly overwritten, short collection of essays about technology as experienced by a writer who came of age at the same time as the internet did.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rez N.

    Realizing again that I don't like to RATE music/books/games... so i don't even know how to rate this.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    A lovely little memoir about growing up along with the development of computers and the internet. If you're a nerdy child of the 80s, you'll find a lot to identify with here.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Naseer Alkhouri

    Chapter 12 man, chapter 12...

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.