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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
The Online Life
In the early days of the Internet — the days before ubiquitous URLs and 56k modems — online communities consisted, for the most part, of bulletin-board systems and more esoteric-based communities. One of the most prominent online communities at the time, hosted on a machine at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, was known as LambdaMOO.
One of the journalists who wrote about LambdaMOO in those days was The Village Voice's Julian Dibbell; his article, about a MOOrape case that sparked a historic debate on the right to criminals' virtual lives, eventually inspired him to spend more time on the MOO and get to know its characters and social structure better. His adventures — and the story of the MOO itself, which was going through a time of great social upheaval during his stay there — are chronicled in My Tiny Life: Crime and Passion in a Virtual World.
Dibbell's chronicles of LambdaMOO's growing pains, from the debates on its internal mailing lists to the throttling lag on its increasingly overtaxed servers, offer a look at a society in its infancy, one experimenting with its newly acquired legs while dealing with the all too human dynamic that consistently lurked underneath and that constantly expanded as news of the MOO spread around and more people made the leap into the virtual world. Beneath the bits and scrolling pieces of text, love was born, sexual conventions were experimented with, friendships were made and surrendered.
At the same time, Dibbell's passionate narration and descriptions of his "tinylife"'soverlap with the everyday adds an element to My Tiny Life that couldn't have been found in a straight retelling of the LambdaMOO story. Through the stories of his initial forays into virtual life — identity experimentation, initial nonvirtual meetings with fellow MOO members, and the inevitable nights spent in front of the computer — the reader can see how, and why, this new world, with its seemingly endless possibilities, can be simultaneously gripping and unbelievably frustrating. Part sociological analysis, part tiny autobiography, My Tiny Life is a fascinating look at the early days of virtual society.