The Internet is Not the Answer Hardcover – 5 Feb 2015
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Pacey and chilling... A powerful, frightening read --Bryan Appleyard, Sunday Times
Andrew Keen's pleasingly incisive study argues that, far from being a democratising force in society, the internet has only amplified global inequities. --John Naughton, Observer
Keen has a sharp eye when it comes to skewering the pretensions and self-delusions of the new digital establishment --Financial Times
A punchy manifesto about the future and integrity of the internet age... This book is a must-read for for anyone remotely concerned about their lives on the net. --Independent
Extremely well-researched and well-written --William Hartston, Daily Express
A packed compendium of all the ways digital life casts aside basic human virtues in favor of a rapacious, winner-takes-all economy. Out of Silicon Valley's libertarian ethos came the myths that information "wants to be free" and that the Internet is fueling a cooperative new utopianism. Keen is excellent at exposing the hypocrisy of that mythology. --Michael Harris, Washington Post
Andrew Keen has written a very powerful and daring manifesto questioning whether the Internet lives up to its own espoused values. He is not an opponent of Internet culture, he is its conscience, and must be heard. --Po Bronson
Andrew Keen has again shown himself one of the sharpest critics of Silicon Valley hype, greed, egotism, and inequity. His tales are revealing, his analyses biting. --Mark Bauerlain, author of The Dumbest Generation
Keen provokes us in every sense of the word-at times maddening, more often thought-provoking, he lets just enough out of the Silicon Valley hot air balloon to start a real conversation about the full impact of digital technology. --Larry Downes, co-author of Unleashing the Killer App
A provocative title and an even more provocative book. Andrew Keen rightly challenges us to think about how the internet will shape society. I remain more optimistic, but hope I'm right to be so. --Mark Read, CEO, WPP Digital
If you've ever wondered why the New Economy looks suspiciously like the Old Economy - only with even more for the winners and less for everyone else - put down your shiny new phablet and read this book. --Robert Levine, author of Free Ride
Andrew Keen is the Christopher Hitchens of the Internet. Neglect this book with peril. In an industry and world full of prosaic pabulum about the supposedly digitally divine, Keen's work is an important and sharp razor. --Michael Fertik, CEO, Reputation.com
In this controversial new book, Andrew Keen argues that the Internet has had a disastrous impact on all our lives - and outlines what we must do to change it, before it's too late.See all Product description
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"…rather than democracy and diversity, all we've got from the digital revolution so far is fewer jobs, and overabundance of content, an infestation of piracy, a coterie of Internet monopolists, and a radical narrowing of our economic and cultural elite."
A number of Keen's arguments are familiar. Far from encouraging openness and freedom, the Internet is often a hotbed of hatred and inequality. New monopolies, such as Google and Amazon, are increasing inequality and taking control of our data. Jobs are being destroyed, entire swathes of the economy are being decimated, and the middle class is disappearing as there is little room for those other than the wealthy or participants in the gig economy.
And those with the money controlling the Internet are attempting to impose their libertarian views to prevent unionization of their employees, block government regulation, and avoid paying taxes.
Keen points out that the Internet, designed to be open and cooperative, is anything but. "Instead, it's a top-down system that is concentrating wealth instead of spreading it."
Keen sketches the early history of the Internet, and explains how money started pouring into new ventures. And this is when thing went wrong:
"As Wall Street moved west, the Internet lost a sense of common purpose, a general decency, perhaps even its soul."
Far from being open and egalitarian, and far from creating competition, the Internet has spawned winner-take-all companies. Amazon's dominance of online retail, as well as e-book sales, has reached a dangerous level, killing off retail stores in every country where it exists. Google's dominance of search is such that it is nearly impossible for any company to compete with. (It's true that Microsoft's Bing, and Yahoo, are not dead yet.) And in many other industries, one player is in a quasi-monopolistic position.
The Internet has also spawned a new approach to identity. In an attempt to emulate stars, people take selfies and share their statuses on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, Yet these services "delude us into thinking we are celebrities. Yet, in the Internet's winner-take-all economy, attention remains a monopoly of superstars."
One of the biggest problems with the Internet is the fact that we trade access to free content in exchange for providing personal data to companies like Google. "Most of these Web 2.0 businesses have pursued a Google-style business strategy of giving away their tools and services for free and relying on advertising sales as their main source of revenue."
Keen goes on to say:
"The problem, of course, is that we are all working for Facebook and Google for free, manufacturing the very personal data that makes their companies so valuable."
All our activity is being quantified and monitored. "We think we are using Instagram to look at the world, but actually we are the ones who are being watched. And the more we reveal about ourselves, the more valuable we become to advertisers."
This, of course, highlights the fact that there is no such thing as a free lunch. In the early days of the Internet, companies gave away all their content for free because they were trying to attract users to a new platform. We have seen how free has become so rooted in the mindset of Internet users, that people are hesitant to pay even $1 for an app, or to pay a subscription to read the news. Of course, the recent kerfuffle around ad-blockers in Apple's iOS nine has shown that users no longer want to put up with advertising overload, and all these content providers need to figure out a new way to monetize their work.
And all this has caused many people to lose their jobs. Sure, we have Amazon Prime delivery, Uber, AirBNB, and Netflix, but all these companies are making money for the tech 1%. These companies have few employees, who are often treated as disposable. "The problem is the Internet remains a gift economy in which content remains either free or so cheap that is destroying the livelihood of more and more of today's musicians, writers, photographers, and filmmakers."
Keen offers some ideas as to how to change directions, but these suggestions are sketchy at best. "The answer [...] can't just be more regulation from government. [...] The answer lies in our new digital elite becoming accountable for the most dramatic socioeconomic destruction since the Industrial Revolution. Rather than thinking differently, the ethic of this new elite should be to think traditional. [...] Rather than an Internet Bill of Rights, what we really need is an informal Bill of Responsibilities that establishes a new social contract for every member of networked society."
This thought-provoking book may make you think differently about how the Internet affects your life, and how it will continue to affect your future.
As I write this, there is a General Election being fought in the United Kingdom. Even though the National Health Service has just been disrupted on a grand scale by criminal hackers, none of the parties are leading with any punches to the challenge of technology. You can see why. Technology has disembowelled many traditional industries and services, but invented others to replace them. It has infected contemporary childhood with pornography, violence and depression, whilst liberating children from the repressive shackles and hang-ups of their parents in previous generations. It has spawned a generation of competent young musicians, through on-line teaching, whilst destroying the recorded music industry. It is hard for a politician to find the angle when one negative charge against technology is always countered by a positive.
So Andrew Keen kicks off with that old Anglo –Saxon favourite - mock horror at the sheer extent of wealth amassed in Silicon Valley. The demonization is amusing in places, but it fails to recognise our complicity in the process of how and where wealth accumulates. It’s a cheap shot, a kind of revolutionary shorthand for how to identify your enemy. Personally, I do not envy Bill Gates his wealth or Peter Thiel his bitterness, or Jeff Bezos his lack of human empathy. That they are richer than me is a measure of their effort, singlemindedness, luck and cleverness. It is also a measure of the fact that they have invented something I find useful.
Cheap shot or not, it does win the attention. There is something disgusting about excessive wealth at a time when, thanks to the internet, we are more aware than ever just how much human, animal and environmental suffering there is in the world. Bill Gates has recognised this through the creation of his foundation, just as the Wellcome Foundation, built on immense pharmaceutical wealth has become a force for good.
The more challenging issues that Keen draws attention to – the digitisation of human behaviour, the extending power of the snoopers, the seeming homogenisation of popular culture – these are harder issues to get your head around. And that’s probably why the politicians – with the exception of Angela Merkel – have steered clear of the perils of algorithms, because as soon as you start talking about them, people glaze over and go back to their twitter feeds. Clive James, in his work Cultural Amnesia, makes a point about how democracy is a slow-moving force for good, how people have a general sense of something being not quite right rather than a sense of what the answer is. This book is a very good start on getting us to think about the challenges of the internet and digital technology. I agree that the internet is not the answer, but I am not quite sure yet what the question is.
Andrew Keen’s rage has to be taken with a pinch of salt – he is making a living out of this stuff, remember – but the collection of failings that he draws attention to should be required reading for legislators, politicians, business leaders and others whose interest is in making the world a better place. It makes you think, and thinking about these problems is an important step on the path to neutralising them. There are no silver bullets for the problems of the web. It is as much a Pandora’s box as the threats that emerged from nuclear technology in the mid-20th century. So far, it seems, the only people thinking about that box are the ones who are trying to make money out of it.
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