An analysis of the ways that technology has transformed the media and made it harder for people to accurately understand the world.
In his first book translated into English, Swedish journalist Grankvist (Lögnarna, 2016, etc.) articulates a disconcerting paradox: although communications technology has made quantum leaps in recent years, there hasn’t been concomitant progress in the quality of journalism; as a result, he says, the typical consumer of news isn’t any better informed. In fact, the author argues that the internet actually undermines one’s perception of global events. The principal culprit, he asserts, is the use of algorithms that deliver specifically customized information to readers, based upon analyses of past online behavior. This creates what the author calls a “filter bubble”—an insular point of view designed to meet readers’ preconceived likes and inclinations, even if they’re counterfactual. This results in an echo chamber of opinions and perspectives that are more flattering than challenging. To make matters worse, news outlets are financially incentivized to provide narrowly targeted, sensationalized product, which compromises their journalistic ethics. Grankvist recommends that readers cultivate wary skepticism and a principled commitment to facts; he also urges them to pay for news (as quality journalism is expensive) and create multiple “bubbles,” in order to access new vistas of thought. The author is a veteran journalist and a columnist at the Swedish daily newspaper Sydsvenskan, and his wealth of experience is evident as he diagnoses the current state of the media. The prose is perfectly limpid and free of prohibitively technical jargon. It’s also made clear that Grankvist isn’t merely a prophet of doom—he also acknowledges the ways in which technology has improved society by democratizing the production and consumption of news and popular culture. Nevertheless, his sharpest observations are about how proprietary computer codes, conjured by undemocratic institutions, pose a threat to democracy itself.
A sober and penetrating study of the damage done to journalism in recent years, including the scourge of “fake news.”