A provocative report on the “looming dystopia” of the digital revolution and its effects on democracy.
Addressing the battles lines drawn between democracy and technology, British technology authority Bartlett (Radicals Chasing Utopia: Inside the Rogue Movements Trying to Change the World, 2017, etc.) meticulously scrutinizes the social and political consequences of our increasingly digitized world and how its control compromises societal frameworks and individual freedoms. He concedes that modern technologies have created greater convenience and improved virtual connectivity, making us “more informed, wealthier and, in some ways, happier.” Echoing this sentiment are the tech pioneers pushing an attention economy with addictive apps and gadgets while dismissing prophecies of a systematically dismantled democracy. Bartlett bolsters this assertion by documenting the real threats of algorithmic data collection, manipulative advertising, and the transference of “moral and political reasoning to machines,” which, once begun, could be impossible to curb. The author estimates that in less than two decades, unregulated technology, artificial intelligence, and election-rigging psychographics will have successfully undermined and basically decimated the benefits of a healthy, proactive democratic society. The narrative tone is engagingly conversational yet authoritative as Bartlett analyzes the current age of hacked elections and nefarious data breaches. He believes that as each of these events (or worse) becomes more commonplace, democracy and its hard-won tenets will continue to erode. He identifies six key supporting platforms, like active citizenship, free elections, competitive economy, and a shared culture, that keep democracy in motion as a “workable system of collective self-government that people believe in and support.” He also paints a clear picture of a future dystopia, unless big tech’s influence is stemmed and the integrity of free speech, autonomy, and politics is preserved. His renunciation of tech’s tightening stronghold is consistently cogent, as is the viable, counterbalancing arsenal of pragmatic solutions that he provides at the end of the book.
Relevant, cautionary, prognosticative insights on the enduring digitization vs. democracy turf war.