Summer 2000

Someone has to be interested

Wow Wow: Sites Unseen//The Internet Review

Concept / design: Miles Murray Sorrell (Fuel). Editor: Richard Preston
Laurence King Publishing, £9.95

I have thought about this book a lot and still don’t know what to make of it. I don’t dislike it, but I can’t see the point. It’s not unlike those television spin-offs always published at Christmas. File under ‘humour’ – almost funny, but struggling to extend the charm of the original into another medium. Page after page of the same stuff really wears thin, and is ultimately inconsequential.

More to the point, why do we need another book about the Internet, and not a particularly user-friendly one at that? This feels uncomfortable, both physically and visually. The pages are too stiff and the binding too rigid to open it enough to read. And that cover! Unattractive is the kindest word I can think of.

This purports to be a ‘magazine’ about the bizarre, the individual and the throwaway, examining many of the non-corporate, non-commercial aspects of what may be encountered on the Internet. It is a collection (53 to be precise) of short essays from some highly respected names in design, journalism and the arts. Each one delivers a critique of a selected site often unashamedly short on ideas or obsessed with one idea alone.

The book is divided into seven sections with ‘helpful’ headings such as Art, Nasty and Earth, yet the sites are all so dissimilar, why bother collating them in this way? Surely the Hobbies are Silly, and the Art is Nasty, too.

‘The thing about the Web is: the medium is the medium … Take out the electronics and all you have left is the boredom.’ Thank you, Stephen Bayley. The crucial thing is that what we are asked to look at is not the original thing of interest. There are no screen shots, although all the website addresses are attached and reference visuals are offered where deemed necessary. The book is not a ‘review’ in the conventional sense, more of a discussion of the need for people to publish themselves in this way. I suspect many of the sites are so transient that soon we may no longer have access to them and will rely only on the references here. Perhaps the comment is so generic that it doesn’t matter.

Many of the descriptions of the sites under consideration uncannily seem to sum up the book itself. ‘The presupposition … is that someone somewhere is going to be interested.’ Frankly, I was mostly not interested, even though Wow Wow is jam-packed with such ‘fascinating’ stuff.

Here’s a clue: ‘The self-dramatisation is the product of a therapy culture in which to be you is an end in itself.’ A simple description of one of those
tragic personal home pages that always become the source of inter-office e-mail, or a justification of the whole book? Look at this, it’s great because it is so awful. Essential reading, of a kind.

Malcolm Garrett, AMX Digital, London

First published in Eye no. 36 vol. 4 1994

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions, back issues and single copies of the latest issue.


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