A capably argued if perhaps too familiar criticism of things as they are in this intermediated, technological swirl of a world.
There may be some Ayn Rand–worshipping libertarians in Silicon Valley, writes Foer (How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization, 2004, etc.), but the governing ethos of what the Europeans call GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) is to aggregate us into a big data collectivity and manage our every desire, memory, taste, and everything else that makes us individuals. In an essay/manifesto driven by righteous indignation at having been fired from his job as New Republic editor by one of those wandering techies, Foer fires back with, among other things, the charge that the tech billionaires’ forays into media “have eroded the integrity of institutions…that supply the intellectual material that provokes thought and guides democracy.” (Never mind that the Jeff Bezos–owned Washington Post has taken the lead in resisting the current administration.) Foer aims broadly and fires buckshot. Sometimes he hits the target, sometimes not. When he does, it’s a doozy: he notes, for instance, that our democratic revolution is now running up against our technological revolution, and “we’re nearing the moment when we will have to damage one of our revolutions to save the other.” The most profound insights in the book usually come from other thinkers on whom Foer draws, such as the economist Herbert Simon, who observed that the true cost of information was its sapping of the information consumer’s attention—which is why things come to us in sound bites and bullet points these days. Many of Foer’s arguments will be familiar to readers who critique technology, such as Jaron Lanier, Ellen Ullman, and Clay Shirky, but his proposed remedy is pretty much his own, perhaps by way of John Prine: blow up the TV and computer and read a (printed) book.
A spirited renunciation of the machine and not just for Luddites in favor of such radical thoughts as private ownership of one’s own data and the nonalgorithmic shopping experience.