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Breathing Machine, A Memoir of Computers

4.06  ·  Rating Details ·  224 Ratings  ·  33 Reviews

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 e

Kindle Edition, 67 pages
Published January 22nd 2014 by Thought Catalog (first published January 20th 2014)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Matthew Borgard
Jan 24, 2014 Matthew Borgard rated it really liked it
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 s
Dec 17, 2015 Zach rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 11, 2016 Patrick rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Nov 06, 2014 James rated it really liked it

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 simila
Sep 18, 2016 James rated it really liked it
A charming memoir evolves into a vibrant study of our virtual lives.
Jan 23, 2014 Al rated it it was amazing
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 ri
Dan Archer
Mar 18, 2014 Dan Archer rated it really liked it
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
Jan 25, 2016 Scott rated it it was ok
Shelves: not-recommended
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 bec
Aug 08, 2015 Alexia rated it it was amazing
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
Christopher Murphy
Jun 20, 2014 Christopher Murphy rated it really liked it
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 t
Feb 12, 2014 Christina rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own-digital-copy
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 ...more
May 31, 2015 Craig rated it it was amazing
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! :)
Bastian Greshake
Feb 12, 2014 Bastian Greshake rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
Gemma Thomson
A thought-provoking and rather poetic memoir, which really drills down to a very relatable sense of nostalgia. Leigh Alexander describes her lifelong fascination with technology in frank and sometimes dark tones, certainly going some way to remind me of my own formative years online.

Strongly recommended for anyone who wants to spend a couple of hours reliving this neon-tinged period of recently-modern life - particularly of the late 1990s and the turn of the Millenium.
Apr 13, 2016 Apa rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, own, ebook
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.
Allison Lara
Jan 30, 2014 Allison Lara rated it it was amazing
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.
Aug 10, 2016 Alyssa rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
Jun 07, 2016 kat rated it really liked it
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.
Jan 23, 2014 Corey rated it it was amazing
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.
Aaron Hildebrandt
May 28, 2014 Aaron Hildebrandt rated it really liked it
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.
Aug 17, 2014 Snawlz rated it it was amazing
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?
Jun 24, 2015 Ross rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
Jordan Cox
Apr 21, 2014 Jordan Cox rated it really liked it
this was fantastic, beautifully captured how life online felt in the 1990s if you were an adolescent & teenager, written with economy and grace.
Aug 17, 2015 Kelly rated it really liked it
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.
Rez N.
Oct 01, 2014 Rez N. rated it really liked it
Realizing again that I don't like to RATE music/books/games... so i don't even know how to rate this.
Sep 28, 2014 Michael rated it really liked it
A rapid, glowing flight through an experience of a time. Once AltaVista sent me a 36" television because I collected enough points.
Ryan Meitzler
Feb 21, 2014 Ryan Meitzler rated it really liked it
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.
Jay Gabler
Jun 08, 2016 Jay Gabler rated it liked it
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.
Ango Bango
Mar 29, 2015 Ango Bango rated it really liked it
A short, wonderfully written book recalling the personal experiences the author had growing up with, and alongside, the internet and computers.
Oct 12, 2014 Mark rated it it was amazing
A personal memoir about growing up with computers and the internet which I found both familiar and quite different from my own experience.
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“A wall-to-wall Instagram reel of flirtatious young women doing selfies and documenting the gaps in their thighs isn’t a zoetrope of inconsequential self-involvement, so much as a reclamation of the lens: The young and bewildered women who blinked innocently from the dark corners of the early web are holding the camera now, controlling their own images, setting the terms of engagement.” 2 likes
“By the time I was in fourth grade, the teacher had already called my parents more than once to say they did not think I could tell fantasy from reality. I could tell. I could. I just didn’t want to. I don’t want to, I don’t want to, I wailed, marched out to the hallway bench. Again.” 1 likes
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