Freelancer Silverman, a celebrated Jeopardy! champion and contributor to Slate, the Atlantic and other publications, debuts with a deep and disquieting plunge into digital culture.
The author focuses on the online world of “I share, therefore I am”—Facebook, Twitter and other social media—where technology companies, under the guise of improving our lives, engage in relentless “exploitation, manipulation, and erosion of privacy” in the pursuit of user data and advertising revenue. Trading on our internalized informational appetite—i.e., need for voyeurism and self-display—and fear of disconnection, they push users toward standardized and mindless behaviors (“Don’t think, just share”). As a result, writes Silverman, we are “surrounded by the incessant chorus of likes, favorites, and a thousand bits of banal-but-cheerfully-good news.” At the cost of our privacy and personal data, social media allow us to indulge our need to know now, to see and be seen, and to browse randomly for news from elsewhere, writes the author, who conveys an unusually vivid sense of what it’s like to be fully engaged in this new culture, where sharing is sincerity, and reserve and introspection seem insincere. Rather than simply enjoy a performance and not take photographs, many now make photographing (and sharing) a major part of any event. Silverman examines the perils of Internet celebrity, reputational management, viral marketing, big data, the demeaning aspects of online labor markets, the meaning of privacy, the constant struggle of users to appear authentic and the ways in which some are rebelling. Relentlessly skeptical, he captures beautifully the surreal aspects of the social media experience and details the all-too-real bottom-line priorities of Silicon Valley executives who insist they know what is best for us.
Intelligent, provocative and illuminating in the author’s argument that social media companies must examine their ethics and find business models that don’t depend on perpetual surveillance of customers.