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Against The Machine: Being Human in the Era of the Electronic Mob [Paperback]

Lee Siegel
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

21 May 2008
Against the Machine is a fascinating look at how the Internet is reshaping the way we think about ourselves and the world. Siegel explores how the internet affects culture and social life, particularly the psychological, emotional and social cost of high-tech solitude. Arguing that the internet's widespread anonymity eliminates boundaries and encourages otherwise polite people to be downright abusive, Siegel discusses the half-fantasy, half-realism of online personae. By experiencing virtual selves rather than other individuals, we run the risk of being reduced to avatars that other internet users manipulate for their own ends. Insightful and written with convincing evidence to support the author?s polemic, this book is a welcome addition to the debate on the personal ramifications of living in a wired world.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Serpent's Tail (21 May 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846686970
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846686979
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 19.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 632,029 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


One of the country's most eloquent and acid-tongued cultural critics. (Deborah Solomon New York Times)

The worldwide web is, for Siegel, essentially an optical illusion, an infinite hall of mirrors in which atomised, self-broadcasting individuals are really just staring at themselves (Prospect)

This witty and intelligent polemic looks at how being online makes us more disconnected. (Scotland on Sunday)

One of the heroic few. (Guardian)

To read him is to be reminded of what criticism used to aspire to in terms of

range, learning, high standards, and good writing and - dare one say it? - values.

(David Rieff)

In every case, Siegel is wildly and satisfyingly unpredictable. (Janet Malcolm)

Savour his vigorous prose, and prepare to be surprised (Pete Hammill)

Siegel is a zigzagging cultural omnivore... a confrontational enthusiast... an expert demolisher of critical group-think (New York Observer)

About the Author

The author of Not Remotely Controlled: Notes on Television, Lee Siegel is a cultual

commentator and art critic. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The web is merely convenient 17 July 2008
Lee Siegel has written a book which doesn't criticise the World Wide Web - he is not some sort of 'neo-luddite' - but he does criticise those who see the internet as some sort of techno utopia where self-expression equals creativity, information replaces knowledge and where corporate speak has appropriated the language of rebellion and revolution. This is a world where public figures, or those who write for so called 'old' media, are held accountable for deception but not bloggers or those who contribute to other 'new' media and where people quite happily produce and swallow 'citizen' propaganda under the banner of freedom.

Siegel wants to show that, like cars before it, the web is merely a convenience not a revolution on par with the printing press - where technology is seen as liberating but is really constraining (how much 'freedom' do MP3s and mobile phones really give?). Of course many people who advocate this type of freedom (for information and sharing it with the world) are really no different to western colonialists who want to show the 'Third World' how it should be done and disseminate information to them in a western way - and for alot of these people the country which has surpassed, or will soon surpass, the US in web usage is a totalitarien regime which routinely imprisons and censors people who do not conform to the governments view - even censoring the web. China is the elephant in to room for the techno utopia.

This book is a must read for anyone interested in critiscism of the web, something you don't find much of, or just interested in the implications of the web for the future, it is an easy read which belies the wealth of ideas contained within it.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Cyber-Pessimist tract of some merit 8 July 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Lee Siegel is one of those people who've been caught out in their use of new media, and there's a mean-spirited streak throughout this book that reflects that somewhat. (After receiving hideously abusive comments about his work, and getting no support from his editors, he went online anonymously to put some positive comments about himself to counter the criticism and got found out). Many of his targets in the book seem to be simply competition for the large audience for popular social science (people like Douglas Rushkoff and Malcolm Gladwell) rather than real academic analysts of the pros and cons of the internet, and he's rather too simplistic in his dismissal of scholars like Lawrence Lessig and Jay Rosen as self-interested 'internet boosters'. His claim that there's no real criticism of the internet, is only partly true and mostly about news media, and ignores a whole tranch of cyber-scepticism and cyber-pessimism in the academic literature on the subject, from which he might have learned a lot to strengthen his position.

As a scholar of journalism and political communication, who has looked at new media too, however, some of his core criticisms of the internet, are to my mind spot on. His comments about how no-one would delight in 'citizen heart surgeons' but seem eager to talk about 'citizen' journalists is absolutely right. A levelling of access to public communication does not equal a levelling of public competence to communicate and celebrating that as democratisation in action, as so many people (including many academics) have done, is naive at best, dangerous at worst. (It's simple technological determinism; the ability to click on a mouse, and type comments on a webpage- just like I'm doing now- is transformed into the ability to make a cogent, coherent contribution.
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This is an intriguing book, ostensibly about the impact of the Internet on culture, but really a rant about the absence of authoritative voices to make a critical, disinterested analysis of the mania of popularity that the Internet has either promoted or reflects. To that extent, Siegel is as guilty of posturing and asserting as the targets of his criticism, and the result is a fairly lightweight personal vindication of how he can see through the tricks of commerce and the conformism of the mob.

This is a shame, as there is an excellent argument at the bottom of this: the substitution of sentience for the exchange value of immediate experience. The sinister implication of Siegel's Internet is that it uses all human possibility solely for its commercial potential, and that potential is measured entirely by a popularity whose premise cannot be verified. The distortion of democracy into a concept used by Siegel's targets as a justification of their expansion into all forms of life is a very serious issue indeed, and invoked all too frequently in the behaviour of irresponsible or corrupt governmental and corporate conduct. But this is where Siegel's thesis does not quite add up: does the behaviour in the blogosphere or the actions of those offering themselves up for reality television only reflect the aspirations of sinister corporate types who just want to empty our pockets? To what extent does the Internet and the other aspects of mass culture that Siegel objects to represent the free expression of the individual? This is a complex problem, but Siegel is guilty of treating it lightly, in a book whose heavyweight questions are given lightweight treatment in less than 200 pages and whose subject leaps about wildly. Neither the Internet or television, Siegel's two pet targets, are monolithic in their content or the experience of them, and this is an unsubtle and partial account of both.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
5.0 out of 5 stars I love this book and I've given it to a few ... 28 July 2014
By Jessica J. - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Though it took awhile to get here and shipping was more than the book cost, I love this book and I've given it to a few friends as gifts. It came in very good condition for such a low price
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