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ABOUT EXTRA LIFE


                          
                  Copyright 1998 The New York Times Company  
                               The New York Times

                 November 8, 1998, Sunday, Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section 7; Page 26; Column 3; Book Review Desk

HEADLINE: Nothing but Net

BYLINE:  By J. D. Biersdorfer; J. D. Biersdorfer is a member of the newsroom
technology staff of The New York Times.

    In addition to age, generations use cultural milestones as markers along the
highway of life. The baby boomers, for instance, were not only midwives to the
birth of rock-and-roll but also witnesses to the rise of television as a popular
entertainment and informational medium. In "Extra Life: Coming of Age in
Cyberspace," David S.  Bennahum  notes that the generation known as X was the
first to incorporate a new home technology into its ethos: computers. "As
computers entered our homes, we were defining a new culture through gleeful
experimentation," he writes, "one that with the Internet in the 1990's would
become dominant, capturing as much attention as did rebellion in the 1960's or
jazz in the 1920's."

    Bennahum,  a contributing editor of Wired, Spin and Lingua Franca, has
written a laid-back autobiography of opinionated observation. Memoirs of people 
under 30 (with the possible exception of Drew Barrymore) often run out of
interesting anecdotes because there has not been a whole lot of living done yet.
"Extra Life" neatly sidesteps this pitfall, because  Bennahum  relives not only 
his own youth but that of the personal computer as well.
                                                                                 
 Like many memoirs, the book longs for a simpler time. Instead of "Howdy
Doody" and Beatle wigs,  Bennahum,  born in 1968, wistfully recalls learning
BASIC code writing from a manual, programming modems by hand and
enthusiastically sharing his computer knowledge with his buddies. "To know the
machine as we did, so intimately, is to forever change the way we experience our
machine-mediated world," he observes. In many ways, he is a classic poster child
for those of us who came of age in the late 70's and early 80's. (Full
disclosure: I'm 31.) The family moved frequently, his parents divorced when he
was young and, mired in adolescent angst,  Bennahum  discovered, as many of us
did, the magical world of pixels and programming through Pong, a popular arcade 
video game.

   "Ours was the first generation to have toys that bore little relation to the 
world of adults, or reality on this planet," he recalls. "They came from a
galaxy far, far away, as the opening titles to 'Star Wars' suggested." With
gadgets like these and some preteen experimentation with drugs enlightening his 
lonely Manhattan childhood,  Bennahum  takes his interest to the next level.
Bargaining with his father, he strikes a deal -- his dad will buy him a home
computer in exchange for excluding his hoodlum friends from his bar mitzvah's
invitation list. With an Atari 800, 48 kilobytes of RAM and a cable to attach
the thing to a television set to convert the screen into a monitor, he's off and
running.                 
                                                                                 
 Although the book dwells too long on certain details of his life (his
youthful druggie day