Franklin Foer reveals the existential threat posed by big tech, and in his brilliant polemic gives us the toolkit to fight their pervasive influence. Over the past few decades there has been a revolution in terms of who controls knowledge and information. This rapid change has imperiled the way we think. Without pausing to consider the cost, the world has rushed to embrace the products and services of four titanic corporations. We shop with Amazon; socialize on Facebook; turn to Apple for entertainment; and rely on Google for information. These firms sell their efficiency and purport to make the world a better place, but what they have done instead is to enable an intoxicating level of daily convenience. As these companies have expanded, marketing themselves as champions of individuality and pluralism, their algorithms have pressed us into conformity and laid waste to privacy. They have produced an unstable and narrow culture of misinformation, and put us on a path to a world without private contemplation, autonomous thought, or solitary introspection--a world without mind. In order to restore our inner lives, we must avoid being coopted by these gigantic companies, and understand the ideas that underpin their success.Elegantly tracing the intellectual history of computer science--from Descartes and the enlightenment to Alan Turing to Stuart Brand and the hippie origins of today's Silicon Valley--Foer exposes the dark underpinnings of our most idealistic dreams for technology. The corporate ambitions of Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon, he argues, are trampling longstanding liberal values, especially intellectual property and privacy. This is a nascent stage in the total automation and homogenization of social, political, and intellectual life. By reclaiming our private authority over how we intellectually engage with the world, we have the power to stem the tide.At stake is nothing less than who we are, and what we will become. There have been monopolists in the past but today's corporate giants have far more nefarious aims. They're monopolists who want access to every facet of our identities and influence over every corner of our decision-making. Until now few have grasped the sheer scale of the threat. Foer explains not just the looming existential crisis but the imperative of resistance.
World Without Mind Review
- January 1, 1970Tess PfeifleMark Crispin Miller says in his essay "Big Brother is You Watching", more or less, that no expression can wholly escape the moment that created it. Foer's, "World Without Mind" is no exception to that. However, the book acknowledges something important - the threat of big tech is not "new." I particularly enjoyed the historical treatment of the first half of the book because it was a completely new way of thinking about technology - for me, at least. My only critique is the beginning is a bit dr Mark Crispin Miller says in his essay "Big Brother is You Watching", more or less, that no expression can wholly escape the moment that created it. Foer's, "World Without Mind" is no exception to that. However, the book acknowledges something important - the threat of big tech is not "new." I particularly enjoyed the historical treatment of the first half of the book because it was a completely new way of thinking about technology - for me, at least. My only critique is the beginning is a bit dry, but once you're through the first 20-40 pages Foer really finds his voice and can finish the book in just a few days. This book asks some good questions and is a provocative way for interconnecting the human experience and technology. Overall, this book exceeded my expectations.As a note, I received this book via a GoodReads giveaway.more
- January 1, 1970CharlesFranklin Foer’s “World Without Mind” is an excellent book. It identifies important problems, ties the problems to their historical precedents, and suggests some reasonable solutions. The book is not complete, or perfect, but in the emerging literature of why and how to curb the power of giant technology companies, this book is a useful introduction, although there is a long way to go from here to there.Foer is primarily known as having been editor of “The New Republic,” for several years during Franklin Foer’s “World Without Mind” is an excellent book. It identifies important problems, ties the problems to their historical precedents, and suggests some reasonable solutions. The book is not complete, or perfect, but in the emerging literature of why and how to curb the power of giant technology companies, this book is a useful introduction, although there is a long way to go from here to there.Foer is primarily known as having been editor of “The New Republic,” for several years during the modern era, ending in 2014. Editors come and go, of course, but at the time his dismissal by a new owner felt like a watershed event among the chattering classes in America. This was because the new owner was Chris Hughes—a man of distinctly modest talent and even more modest accomplishments, who became filthy rich by the happenstance of being Mark Zuckerberg’s roommate at Harvard. Hughes, after a brief period of operating The New Republic in close cooperation with Foer, using traditional (i.e., money-losing) journalism, hired some eighth-rate web traffic geek to turn the magazine into clickbait. In that environment, of course, Foer was of no use, so Hughes fired him in the boorish and incompetent manner typical of nouveau riche men of his generation and class. (Hughes no longer owns the magazine, having failed even at operating a clickbait site, and has since moved on to other failures.)In part, as he admits, Foer wrote his book in response to these events. But this is not a revenge job; it’s just that the story of The New Republic’s travails is illuminating to Foer’s points. Those points are clearly and well made. Yes, Foer seems to think that most history began in the 1960s, with perhaps a few events from the 1700s onward being mildly relevant. But that is an occupational hazard for the educated members of Generation X, and, after all, most of the relevant history to this book began in the 1990s, so if you must have a narrow historical vision, it might as well be in a book about the evils of modern technology firms.Foer begins with a Prologue, which in many ways is the most intriguing part of the book. Here Foer introduces a key historical parallel for the book, 1950s and 1960s food re-engineering creating the dominance of processed food and frozen dinners. He analogizes that change to the emergent dominance of the technology companies (by which he means “GAFA”—Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon). As far as food goes, we were promised “convenience, efficiency, and abundance.” We got it—and we also, without meaning to, hugely damaged “our waistline, longevity, soul, and planet.” We were promised similar, but more utopian, benefits by the GAFA companies, some of which we got, along with a heaping of unexpected Bad Things. This tension, between the promises of technology and its costs, is the backbone of Foer’s book.In his Prologue, Foer also lays out a philosophical framework, focusing on what I think is the critical point. “More than any other previous coterie of corporations, the tech monopolists aspire to mold humanity into their desired image of it.” Although he does not use these terms, Foer’s basic point throughout the book is that the GAFA companies and their masters deny the telos of man. They refuse to acknowledge that man has an inherent nature or purpose. Instead, they view humanity in purely instrumentalist terms, subject to unending manipulation—all for mankind’s own improvement, of course, as well as their profit. Thus, while Silicon Valley is often viewed as libertarian, it is not—it is monopolist in economic intent and collectivist utopian in social intent, even if that utopia uses the superficial language of liberty. Silicon Valley considers “the concentration of power in its companies . . . an urgent social good, the precursor to global harmony; a necessary condition for undoing the alienation of mankind.” This utopia is a collectivist one, not one personal to the individual. In fact, Foer even semi-lyrically complains (not citing Josef Pieper, though he should) that “The tech companies are destroying something precious, which is the possibility of contemplation.” And, even if such a utopia may seem desirable, Foer think that utopia is not on its way. Rather, we face enforced conformity, a total loss of privacy, the erosion of thoughtful self-government, and the hobbling of creative genius. We’re becoming Spam—a mediocre, indistinguishable, controlled mass of meat contained in a metaphysical box.Foer traces this desire by the masters of GAFA, for global harmony and the end of alienation, to the 1960s. More precisely, to Stewart Brand, who founded the “Whole Earth Catalog,” and to other pop culture icons like Marshall McLuhan. While I suppose this is true in part, it is a crimped vision. Seeking, and believing you have found, the key to global harmony and the end of alienation has a vastly longer pedigree—through Marxism and its variants; through 19th Century German philosophy; and through much Enlightenment thought. Of course, as Foer sometimes seems to hint, these latter day eschatons are mere secular versions of the ancient Judeo-Christian vision, and Facebook and Google merely offer different re-workings of the Serpent in the Garden, promising us that we will be as gods. Stewart Brand and other hippies are, in truth, irrelevant carbuncles on the shoulders of giants. But Foer’s basic point is true enough—this vision was influential in forming the vision of today’s tech leaders, and it is utopian in form and content. Despite the libertarian stereotype, it is “the exact opposite of Ayn Rand’s vision of libertarianism; [it is] a hunger for cooperation, sharing, and a self-conscious awareness of our place in a larger system.”“World Without Mind” addresses each of the GAFA firms in turn, with a focus on the history of each as it relates to Foer’s theses. None of these companies, of course, produce any relevant amount of knowledge. They are instead gatekeepers and filters, offering efficiency to consumers in exchange for a piece of the action. Foer does not object to the gatekeeper role, as such. He is perfectly well aware that the mass of information that is the Internet cannot be directly addressed by any human and still be of any use. He notes that in the past journalists (totally coincidentally, people just like him) were the honored gatekeepers of both information and its importance, as well as arbiters of much of culture. His Golden Age is the time when the owners of the Washington Post honored objectivity, de-emphasized profitability, and regarded their news outlets as a public trust. Foer is aware that this Golden Age was sometimes tarnished, although his examples tend to focus on the clichéd (they enabled Nixon!), not the real (conservatives have been suppressed for decades). But again, his basic point, that the GAFA companies are more like Cerberus out for a snack than a paladin keeping enemies out of the gate, is sound.Foer begins with Google, noting that Google regards its actual mission as creating strong AI, followed by augmented humanity and a world where scarcity has been eliminated and all limits on man disappear. I have long known this (it is not like Google keeps it a secret, though few seem to focus on it), but my reaction has always been that Google will ultimately collapse, since this is a stupid business model. Any company that hires Ray Kurzweil to be a top executive is delusional and wasting the shareholders’ money—if the goal is to offer the shareholders money, which here it isn’t. As Foer says, Kurzweil’s “main business is prophecy.” Prophecy does not pay the bills, or at least false prophecy doesn’t. But Foer is correct, and my old reaction was wrong—the business model doesn’t require competition to survive if Google has carved out a niche of permanent dominance, by having such an amount of data that no competitor can even begin to think of competing, and if it has, it can do whatever it wants, whether it makes any business sense or not. Next comes Facebook, whose goal is not the creation of non-human progress, but rather directly augmenting human social progress, by bringing people together, while at the same time telling them what thoughts are permitted to think, and increasingly manipulating them into what to think. Facebook’s focus is algorithmic thinking to apply that data, to which outsiders are not privy, only the priests of Zuckerberg. Finally, Amazon monopolizes power over authors (Foer mostly ignores Amazon’s non-book sales) and thereby erodes authorial incentive, thereby crushing genius. Amazon crushes authorial genius in books; Google and Facebook do it in newspapers and periodicals; Apple erodes it in music (Apple gets the least direct abuse in this book, implicitly because it has the least power of the type Foer complains of).But before we get to authorial incentive, we should treat Foer’s grander, if less visceral, objection to the behavior of the GAFA companies. That is, why is any of this a problem? It is because their power is destroying our ability to govern ourselves. They are “knowledge monopolies,” a new variation on an old theme. Foer’s other Golden Age is one, from roughly 1880 to 1980, when antitrust enforcement was much more aggressive than today. He divides that into two time periods, though, only one of which he feels should be our new model. In earlier years, monopoly was viewed, by men such as Louis Brandeis, through the Jeffersonian lens of an unhealthy concentration of power tending to the degradation of democracy through its corruption of the democratic process. In later years, however, from roughly 1940 on, monopolies came to be viewed by enforcers only as a problem when they harmed consumers, by raising prices or reducing choice—that is, when they were inefficient. The problem, though, is that today’s monopolies, at least on the surface, benefit consumers quite a bit. They are extremely efficient in that sense. Thus, when in the 1970s academics such as Robert Bork pushed to revise the law to, in effect, only recognize this latter theory, and this view became wholly dominant, the tools to attack monopoly as a broader menace to our society had disappeared. Foer wants to restore those tools, for, as he says, “The Framers preferred liberty to efficiency,” because any monopoly is ultimately the enemy of liberty, especially a monopoly with power over knowledge and communication, which tends to create conformity, the bane of a free people.As to authorial incentive, there is little doubt that the GAFA companies have reduced the power of, and payments to, authors, which must necessarily reduce incentive to create. Foer sees keeping such payments high as a key pillar of our society. To demonstrate this, he focuses on copyright. He claims that “one of [government’s] primary economic responsibilities is preserving the value of knowledge.” Although there is something to this, and Foer cites both the Constitution and the 1710 Statute of Anne, the progenitor of generally applicable copyright law, he reaches too far when he claims, in essence, that today’s copyright law is a critical element of our entire social system, and, by implication, if authors get paid less due to changing competition, it tears at the fabric of our society. For one, we got by just fine when copyright lengths were far shorter (a maximum of 28 years until relatively recently—now it’s the entire life of the author plus 70 years!). (It is both not true as a reason for the growth of copyright, and an anachronism as an argument, when, speaking of Wordsworth and early copyright, Foer says “Because poets were rarely appreciated in their own time, copyright protections needed to be lengthy—so that there was enough time for the public’s taste to catch up with genius.”) For another, we got by just fine when there was no copyright at all, and when it was spotty in framework and enforcement. Sure, there’s a good argument that more rigid copyright helps authorial creativity and production. Yes, Larry Lessig makes far too broad claims, and yes, anyone who believes “information wants to be free” is an idiot. Yes, the theory that crowdsourced authoring, such as Wikipedia, can compete in accuracy of content or style of delivery with professional, paid content has proven utterly false, as has the idea that crowdsourced anything offers a viable model to replace any paid model with something qualitatively better (other than, perhaps, reviews of consumer products and services). But let’s not elevate any of this to a core principle of good government. Moreover, Amazon is not Napster. Foer’s objection is that Amazon devalues the traditional hierarchy of authors imposed by publishing houses, instead substituting the whims of the market, and also eroding the power of the publishing houses through its economic dominance. All true, but this is not theft, and copyright law seems to be working as it’s supposed to for authors. So, it’s probably inaccurate to call Amazon a “knowledge monopoly”—it is more of a monopsonist, one whose dominance over the buyer’s market, in this case as middleman, allows it to set prices. “Monopoly” is a term better suited to Google and Facebook (although they too erode authorial incentive, as a side effort to controlling the flow of information). This is a less sexy and less compelling claim, though, than that all four GAFA companies are a monolith placing dynamite at the foundation of society.Regardless of which company should be focus, Foer offers a set of solutions to his two identified problems. First, we should restore the old understanding of monopoly, and the federal government should take aggressive enforcement action. Any firm that controls knowledge to a great degree, especially one that filters that knowledge in a non-neutral way, should be curbed or broken. Second, and buttressing this effort, new regulations, under the aegis of a “Data Protection Authority,” should be created to sharply limit the collection and use of data by technology companies, including requiring automatic deletion of data except upon opt-in and “insist[ing] that they provide equal access to a multiplicity of sources and viewpoints.” Third, we should all realize we need to pay, and we should go back to paying, for quality authorial work, rather than thinking content should be free, and thereby both undercutting authorship and allowing Google and Facebook to direct us, unknowingly, to content they select that we should be consciously choosing for ourselves. Fourth, as with the way much of America has recoiled from processed food, factory farming and other perceived evils (even though that is often “really purchasing the sensation of virtue and rectitude”), we should seek to restore “cachet” to “books, essays, and journalism.” In other words, we should be more highbrow.I think, at a minimum in the abstract, all of these are good ideas. I, at least, had already started subscribing to more and more periodicals, in paper form, and have abandoned my Kindle, as has Foer. If I’ve done it, there must be something to it! I think, though, that absolute neutrality for all non-obscene content should be required, not just offering “a multiplicity of sources and viewpoints,” which is just another word for picking and choosing what is permitted to think. Any technology company that censors any non-obscene content for non-viewpoint neutral reasons should be subject to massive government fines and a private right of action with huge statutory monetary damages. But these are details—the question now is, how can we get this party started?Foer explicitly thinks that while these proposals seem unlikely to be accepted, that there will be some “catastrophe,” a “Big One,” where some mass exposure of private data will cause such damage to the average person that voters will demand something be done. This is certainly possible (the recent Equifax hack tends in this direction, though it is far from catastrophic enough). Foer says “The best analogy is the financial crisis of 2008. There was nothing that the banks could do to gain political traction in the face of the catastrophe that they unleashed.” Really? In the world I live in, corrupt politicians cooperated with corrupt bankers to make sure banks were completely insulated from the effects of their actions, and exited the 2008 crisis in far better shape than before, having paid no price at all, and passed all the costs on to the average American. It’s the latter, not banks, who lack “political traction.” In fact, I am willing to bet most dictionaries today illustrate their entry for “political traction” with a line drawing of Jamie Dimon. This weak analogy suggests the key flaw in Foer’s hope—catastrophes nowadays are used by the powerful to advance their own interests, not to make changes for the benefit of society as a whole. In all likelihood, unfortunately, the same would happen in a catastrophic data breach.Some argue that action is not necessary, only more competition over time. Once Microsoft was dominant; now it is not (though it still dominates certain software markets). Once buggy whips were sold all over America. At some point in the near future, probably sooner rather than later, so the argument goes, the GAFA companies will also cede their dominance to new competition. Foer disagrees—he thinks that the collection of data these companies have make them nearly impossible to dislodge from their position. Another argument, made by Tim Wu in “The Attention Merchants,” is that it is primarily our job, not the government’s, to change things. Foer certainly agrees with this in part, as shown by his strong advocacy of returning to paid content and his suggestion that readers, by their consumer choices, have the ability to reverse the monopolistic dominance of the GAFA companies. That is, even aside from any government action, we have the power to redirect our attention. A third argument, related to the second, is that the system we have is what the people want. We get what we deserve, and just because it’s trashy and damaging doesn’t mean we don’t deserve it. Foer, certainly, overstates the ability of the masses to appreciate high-level thought and culture. They want Upworthy, not “The New Yorker.” Foer ascribes the decline of mass appreciation for classical music to Baumol’s cost disease (where activities that have not increased in productivity over time, such as live music performances, become relatively more expensive). That doesn’t even make any sense—live performances are not how classical music is consumed; excellent recordings have been ubiquitous for nearly a century. The decline is much more likely because the coarse tastes of the common people have become economically, and therefore socially, dominant. (For the record, I cannot myself appreciate classical music at all; it all sounds like elevator music to me. I prefer EDM, thus exhibiting my own coarseness.) While these arguments may have something to them, they do not contradict Foer’s core assertion that aggressive government control of knowledge monopolies, now, will benefit society.[Review finishes as first comment.]more
- January 1, 1970Gary MoreauAs a national correspondent for The Atlantic and the former editor of The New Republic, Franklin Foer has had more than a front row seat during the battle between the digital and the print world over knowledge. He has been in the fray and has the scars to prove it.He is, as a result, more than a little resentful, a reality, however, that he readily admits, an admission in keeping with the culture of publishing nobility that the warriors of tech have so gleefully knocked from its pedestal. Truth As a national correspondent for The Atlantic and the former editor of The New Republic, Franklin Foer has had more than a front row seat during the battle between the digital and the print world over knowledge. He has been in the fray and has the scars to prove it.He is, as a result, more than a little resentful, a reality, however, that he readily admits, an admission in keeping with the culture of publishing nobility that the warriors of tech have so gleefully knocked from its pedestal. Truth and motivation, however, are not the same thing and much of what Foer says has considerable merit. His perspective deserves to be heard, not because he has suffered, but because he is right on many fronts.There is little question that the historical line in the sand between journalism and advertising has been obliterated by the digital stampede. A significant amount of content on every news feed is, in fact, sponsored by commercial interests. An even greater amount, we can assume, is influenced. And that’s not even counting the blatantly false, which sometimes gets uncovered, but not before the damage is done.He is also right that the digital world is not a virtuous world of empowered democracy, giving even the most common among us an equal voice. We all have a voice but others – or the algorithms they design - control which of our voices is heard. Those decisions may be reactive (the gatekeepers push what is already popular) but it is naïve to think that selection doesn’t yield considerable influence in a world that is drowning in raw data and images.Journalism, as Foer points out, is a race to clicks monitored in real time. The ability to write a headline that will get clicked is as important as the ability to write the content it refers to. And it is true that the tech giants don’t leave this to chance. They test and model in a laboratory without walls, often without our knowledge.There is little question that while we have immediate access to more information now than in the history of humankind, it has been homogenized to the point of banality. Even the suggestively naughty pictures and titillating headlines have lost their power to keep our attention. I, for one, have lost all interest in the daily habits of reality tv stars and the latest slap down from celebrity-seekers putting body shamers in their place.It is true that authors and journalists can no longer – with the exception of celebrities which is, by definition, a limited commodity – make a sustainable wage as the price of knowledge and content has been driven to zero, but the answer, I believe, is not charging for content. That’s just not going to happen and there remains an idealistic part of me that doesn’t want it to.One of the best points made by Foer is that the advancement of technology has, for many reasons, undermined all public interest in corporate regulation. The free net, as it were, has allowed the big technology companies to amass a monopoly power that the robber barons of the late nineteenth century could only dream of.But is regulation the answer? Can a faceless bureaucrat, in the end, be assumed to be any more noble-minded than the CEO of Tech Inc? I’m not so sure. To draw an analogy, I think noblesse oblige, on the political front, could be no worse than what we have now. We have “democracy” in name only.Foer points out that in world of book publishing paper, by some statistics, seems to be making a small comeback. I don’t believe, however, that it has anything to do with a nostalgia for books that we can touch and feel. I think it is directly explained by the fact that publishers now price their e-books at or very close to the hardcover versions. At this juncture in the evolution, I suspect, consumers are simply saying that if I can get an object for the same price as a file, why not? The trend, I suspect, will ultimately revert back in favor of the electronic. I love books, and consume 60 or more per year. And they will have to yank my Kindle out of my dead, cold hands.I do, however, have an intellectual commitment to diversity. And that is why I believe that Foer’s book deserves to be read and discussed. One benefit, moreover, of his being an “old school” journalist, as some will certainly refer to him, is that the book is meticulously researched and any reader is sure to learn things about the history of journalism – and algorithms – that they didn’t know before. I know I did. This book was very much worth my investment and my time.more
- January 1, 1970AngieIn the Prologue to this book, the author tells us he spent most of his career at the New Republic. When Chris Hughes, who happens to have been Mark Zuckerberg's college roommate, bought the paper, he made Foer editor and tasked him to remake the magazine into a modern publication, befitting the new millennium. He fired Foer 2 1/2 years later when the magazine could not meet Hughes' expectations. Foer says he hopes that this book "doesn't come across as fueled by anger." So far he has NOT lived u In the Prologue to this book, the author tells us he spent most of his career at the New Republic. When Chris Hughes, who happens to have been Mark Zuckerberg's college roommate, bought the paper, he made Foer editor and tasked him to remake the magazine into a modern publication, befitting the new millennium. He fired Foer 2 1/2 years later when the magazine could not meet Hughes' expectations. Foer says he hopes that this book "doesn't come across as fueled by anger." So far he has NOT lived up to his hopes. I may not last for the duration, especially in the face of a writing style that could be a little less informal and a bit better organized. One common annoyance is that when he is talking about history of tech he is not careful to identify the year or period he is talking about. Sometimes he mentions it in passing well into the discussion or leaves the reader to guess from mention of certain events. Sometimes I never was sure. This is important. For example, if a young person has a personal computer it makes a difference if it is the 1970s, the early 1980s, or the late 80s. One is extraordinary; one is VERY advanced; one is so-so. OK, I gave up. When I find myself so annoyed by the style that it interferes with my ability to absorb what the author is saying it is time to move on. The writing is just plain sloppy. I found too many instances like when he says that the great sociologist Thorstein Veblen wrote a book making the case for putting engineers into power and uses this to discuss the rise of Herbert Hoover and the increasing importance of engineers as the 20th century progressed. Sounds interesting, but in neither the book nor the endnotes is the Veblen book identified!! (The endnotes are another source of annoyance. I discovered them late. Why? Because there are no footnote numbers or other references to them in the text. A reader has to guess that this might be something for which the author might cite the source and go to the notes, where references are found by page number. ) I am surprised and disappointed that the publisher put the book out for sale in this condition.more
- January 1, 1970IetrioAn old man and his fears. The good old times were better. But the old man is not smart enough to know the old times were better because they were past, hence easy to manage.Otherwise, a mindless primitivist statement. Same concerns were generated at every new item in the life of humans. The industrial was bad. But the poverty of today has a comfort few kings had only two centuries ago. The car was bad, but we all depend on it and even those hypocrite enough to dump it are glad to use it from tim An old man and his fears. The good old times were better. But the old man is not smart enough to know the old times were better because they were past, hence easy to manage.Otherwise, a mindless primitivist statement. Same concerns were generated at every new item in the life of humans. The industrial was bad. But the poverty of today has a comfort few kings had only two centuries ago. The car was bad, but we all depend on it and even those hypocrite enough to dump it are glad to use it from time to time. Synthetic fibers? Not natural, yet fewer people die of frost today than before them. And that is only about clothes.The problem in the end is not the argument, as everyone is entitled to their views. Is the qualifications that are lacking.more
- January 1, 1970IvanIf you work in an editorial role or are an author, you should read this book. But also a good read for anyone who buys on Amazon, scrolls through Facebook, or uses Google. Informative and haunting, from former New Republic editor. If you work in an editorial role or are an author, you should read this book. But also a good read for anyone who buys on Amazon, scrolls through Facebook, or uses Google. Informative and haunting, from former New Republic editor.more
- January 1, 1970Marks54How to begin on this well-intended by not very successful effort at painting the dark side of Internet dominance by such firms as Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple, and the like?- Oh Brave New World that has such platforms in it!Or perhaps ...- Former editor of the New Republic used to be a fan of the Internet and its New Age independent spirit. What he thinks about it now will blow your mind!Mr. Foer is concerned about the long term threats to our freedom posed by the dominant monopoly positions How to begin on this well-intended by not very successful effort at painting the dark side of Internet dominance by such firms as Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple, and the like?- Oh Brave New World that has such platforms in it!Or perhaps ...- Former editor of the New Republic used to be a fan of the Internet and its New Age independent spirit. What he thinks about it now will blow your mind!Mr. Foer is concerned about the long term threats to our freedom posed by the dominant monopoly positions of Google, Facebook, Amazon, and others. (It is sort of a monopoly position, since Foer is not a fan of technical definitions by economists and lawyers - except when they support him, such as Arnold or Brandeis - but I digress.).What is the problem? Well by collecting and analyzing so much information and by having so many users, these large firms can control how we think about the world, what we read, who we link up with and talk to, and what we buy. We retain our free will - nominally - but without real choices what is to become of our lives? As AI gets more powerful and begins to dominant human actors, even our identities will come into question. Holy "brains in a vat" Batman, the world of the Matrix is just around the corner! While we are not quite there yet, the book is filled with examples of how these large network platform behemoths behave like monopolists and restrict the potential for anyone to effectively compete with them - or even protest what they are doing.There is a growing genre of business dystopia books and accounts that are interesting to read and perhaps even more valuable by providing a damper to the technological march of triumph and hype that fill a lot of the popular business press. Algorithms will not solve all of our problems - nor will big data. These ventures and the large firms they morph into are run by people who suffer from all of the moral failings and personal agendas of the rest of us - more depending on who you read. It is valuable to have a questioning chorus on the stage.The work of the gadfly, however, also gets scrutinized, as well as the alternative program for action, if any, that is offered in the critique. Much of what Mr. Foer presents is not new. Amazon has come in for occasional criticism by its competitors and suppliers - and even occasionally by its customers. Facebook has been accused of numerous failings, most recently for its accepting of phony ads during the recent presidential campaign, and I saw little new in this account. The same is true for Google, whose growth to dominance has received much media attention, including some criticism.Mr. Foer concludes his book with a call for enhanced antitrust scrutiny of the platform giants. I do not disagree with him on this, up to a point. It has never been illegal in the US to get very big - indeed to become a monopoly. The problem comes when a position of monopoly power in a market is obtained by acting in an uncompetitive way in the market that is monopolized. Very few have criticized the platform giants for inefficiency. Indeed, that is the point for Mr. Foer, that these firms are so much more efficient than their competitors from earlier generations, that the competitors do not stand a chance. Why get your news on an inky and sometimes soggy wad of paper in the morning when you can look it up anytime on your phone - for free? The problem is to identify what the market is where the anticompetitive behavior is occurring and demonstrate that such behavior is occurring and is anticompetitive. That might well be possible - and for all I know may be the subject of current litigation. We no insight on this for Mr. Foer's account unfortunately but will have to look it up for ourselves on Google.For me, Mr. Foer was most insightful in discussing the fate of print media and writers under the digital onslaught, drawing on his experience at the New Republic. Even here though, while the details are fascinating there is little new to shed light on these problems which have been plaguing print media for decades (even before the Internet was upon us after Netscape). On the plight of individual writers, I am sorry but anyone who did not know this has not been paying attention. Most people who get paid anything to write need to have a day job - or a professionally employed partner.In terms of solutions, Mr. Foer's idea that the government is the actor that will save us from Google or Facebook is a head scratcher. The government is what gave us the Internet in the first place so why is it that some government agency (DARPA or DOJ) will be able to cope with the highly skilled and credentialed minions at Google or Amazon? There apppears to be a trace of fear that consolidation in the private sectors will consolidate everything and even take over a number of governmental functions. I understand that fear - it is literally as American as Apple Pie. In fact, we are coming up in January 2018 on the 130 year anniversary of the publication of "Looking Backward" by Edward Bellamy, which posits such a corporatist future -albeit with no Internet. The fact that one can envisage a corporate takeover of the US, however, does not mean that such a takeover is likely or a reasonable extrapolation from current issues of corporate power. Seriously, JK Galbraith was concerned about the corporate power of Ford in the 1960s with "The New Industrial State". How did that work out.Let's just say I am not persuaded.more
- January 1, 1970Mbogo JI really feel Foer's plight but unfortunately for him the barbarians are not at the gates, they already entered the city confines and robbed the populace blind and what they cannot rob they are buying at fire sale prices.At face value, this book is about how technology companies are cheapening journalism but a deeper look into the central thesis shows that the book is more of a cry at the loss of value of intellectual material in the face of current technology. Foer shows how tech companies fora I really feel Foer's plight but unfortunately for him the barbarians are not at the gates, they already entered the city confines and robbed the populace blind and what they cannot rob they are buying at fire sale prices.At face value, this book is about how technology companies are cheapening journalism but a deeper look into the central thesis shows that the book is more of a cry at the loss of value of intellectual material in the face of current technology. Foer shows how tech companies foray into journalism raided the profession's fort and promoted the likes of Buzzfeed while killing or constricting traditional newspapers. This is a well trodden path but what Foer brings to the fray is the idea that these tech companies need to be regulated. Monopoly power has given them carte blanche to do whatever they want and they've turned predatory. Of the 3 companies singled out for blame; Facebook, Google and Amazon, the latter seems the most banditry. It skirts paying taxes and seems so confident of its position that it names projects using disdainful names such as Project Gazelle.Unfortunately Foer is fighting a losing battle, may be tech companies will be regulated in the end but journalism will not go back to the old days. The only way to foster serious journalism is to divorce it from commercialism and either publicly fund it or set up non partisan foundations to support serious reporting. In the current climate we'll have to make due with viral headlines such as,"5 things you did not know about the....., number 5 will shock you!"In the current climate it is likely that Foer will be dismissed as a bitter old timer who misses the good old days but mindless snacking of algorithm products is like going to an orchard and only eating low hanging fruits. In the end you get sick.more
- January 1, 1970Ronald J.I found the arguments against the tech giants unpersuasive, and the idea that people no longer take ideas, literature, books, art, etc., seriously also unpersuasive. If the tech giants are so powerful, how did Trump win over Hillary? Why did Trump win? The author never even approaches the question. I think you argue he lives in a bubble, only reads confirming views, and so on, the same charge he levels against everyone else. He also confuses data and information with knowledge, which is not chea I found the arguments against the tech giants unpersuasive, and the idea that people no longer take ideas, literature, books, art, etc., seriously also unpersuasive. If the tech giants are so powerful, how did Trump win over Hillary? Why did Trump win? The author never even approaches the question. I think you argue he lives in a bubble, only reads confirming views, and so on, the same charge he levels against everyone else. He also confuses data and information with knowledge, which is not cheap, nor is it being devalued by the tech giants. One could argue the opposite. He should read George Gilder's Knowledge and Power. But he's a leftist, so it's doubtful he would ever expose himself to such ideas. Besides that, there are some interesting tidbits in the book, and it's a breezy read. There's just better books out there on this topic.more
- January 1, 1970Matt SchiavenzaFranklin Foer's much-anticipated cri de couer against "big tech" delivers in some ways but falls short in others. I liked his critique of the vapid "information yearns to be free" ethos of the internet, one that Foer argues (persuasively) has undermined journalism. But Foer's book too often loses focus — it veers from a pointed assessment of contemporary tech to a more indulgent historical survey of Silicon Valley's ideological origins. In a longer book, I wouldn't have minded this approach — an Franklin Foer's much-anticipated cri de couer against "big tech" delivers in some ways but falls short in others. I liked his critique of the vapid "information yearns to be free" ethos of the internet, one that Foer argues (persuasively) has undermined journalism. But Foer's book too often loses focus — it veers from a pointed assessment of contemporary tech to a more indulgent historical survey of Silicon Valley's ideological origins. In a longer book, I wouldn't have minded this approach — and Foer's erudition is indeed impressive. But World Without Mind is a slim volume that would have benefited from some pruning.That said, this is a worthwhile, interesting book that I hope augurs a shift in public opinion toward the enormous, monopolistic tech companies who control an increasing amount of our lives.more
- January 1, 1970Olha KhilobokFoer understands where the world is, no illusions that there is a way back somewhere. Is there a chance that big brother is made of data? Who knows, but big data is watching you, that's for sure. The book is worth reading especially for those who make they living by authorship, any kind of authorship, which is under a big data question now.more
- January 1, 1970Richard WinmillMakes you think long and hard about the new internet monopolies. There really are no close competitors to Facebook, Amazon, and Google. They are fast becoming utilites like ATT used to be. The EU will probably continue to take them on when the over step their bounderies.more
- January 1, 1970Josh Trapanihttp://www.washingtonindependentrevie...
- January 1, 1970EliseA smart, engaging discussion of the consequences of outsourcing our lives to Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc. This will be on everyone's must-read list this year.
- January 1, 1970AlexanderLook, normally I'd write a review, but in this case, it feels kind of pointless given my eternal gratitude to and respect for its author. So I'll just say you should go read it!
- January 1, 1970ArtHow Tech Companies Pose An Existential Threat. All Things Considered. http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechco... Tech braces for The Big One. Scroll to No. 2. https://www.axios.com/axios-am-248426... 'World Without Mind' Is An Urgent, Personal Polemic. NPR book review. http://www.npr.org/2017/09/13/5486625...more
- January 1, 1970Jennifer DarciOne of those books I will always keep. And there are less than 20 of those I have ever read.
Write a review