Book: The internet is not the answer

160315 book review 1

The internet is not the answer
By Andrew Keen
Allen & Unwin (2015)
RRP $39.99

Everyone from Instagramming kids to governments of the world love digital technologies and the economies they enable. But if you’ve ever had reservations about some aspects of the internet’s impact on society, then this book is for you. Andrew Keen, a tech industry commentator, has unparalleled access to some of the best and brightest in Silicon Valley. And every time he talks to another billionaire wunderkind throwing terms like “disruptive”, “game-changing” and “level playing field” around, those reservations will increase.

One of his sharpest insights is that, despite all their talk about smashing the old systems, the moguls of the age such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sergey Brin and Larry Page are no different from the Rockefellers and Rothschilds who dominated earlier eras.

Technology throws millions out of work and destroys entire communities – such as Rochester, New York, the former home of Kodak which features prominently in the book – the same way it always has. The only difference, Keen observes, is that today the people behind it wear hoodies and sneakers instead of tailored suits.

In fact, the gap between the haves and have-nots is wider than ever thanks to the speed and ferocity of market reaction to these globe-changing trends.

Keen debunks the promises of digital prophets such as TED’s Chris Anderson and Wired magazine founder Kevin Kelly. “Rather than democracy and diversity, all we’ve got from the digital revolution so far is fewer jobs, an overabundance of content, an infestation of piracy, a coterie of internet monopolists, and a radical narrowing of our economic and cultural elite.” And if you did work at Kodak, a record company or the New York Times, the new business models making more money by providing work for fewer people only adds insult to injury.

While we endlessly tweet, post and search online, Google, Amazon and Facebook are collecting everything there is to know about us – getting rich in the process in today’s personal-information-as-currency economy. Essentially we’re working for them – for nothing.

It’s too late to go back, and few in the Western World would want to, with the internet as essential as electricity. But at least this book will remind you to think before drinking the digital Kool-Aid.

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