A sweeping look at why today’s digital economy doesn’t benefit the middle class and the ways that should change.
If many tech books today offer dire, sky-is-falling warnings, then Lanier (You Are Not a Gadget, 2011, etc.) takes that idea a step further: The sky is falling and will continue to fall until it crushes the entire middle class under its weight. Until recently, new technology has always created new jobs, but in this new information economy, “[o]rdinary people ‘share,’ while elite network presences generate unprecedented fortunes”—e.g., when Facebook purchased the photo-sharing service Instagram for nearly $1 billion. Lanier claims this trend is “setting up a situation where better technology in the long term just means more unemployment, or an eventual socialist backlash.” Although the author opens with this provocative thesis, what follows is a meandering manifesto bogged down by its own terminology. Lanier includes an appendix listing “First Appearances of Key Terms” (many of which he coined), but readers may wonder why the author couldn’t explain this jumble of economic theories and futuristic ideas in more lucid terms: Rather than create the word “antenimbosian,” why not just say “before the advent of cloud computing”? This isn’t to say that Lanier hasn’t come up with some exceptional theories. For instance, he hypothesizes that self-driving cars “could be catastrophic” for the economy. Driverless taxis would rob new immigrants of jobs and deny them a “traditional entry ramp to economic sustenance.” However, these concepts are so lost in a heap of digressions, interludes and fables—including the continued recurrence of a fictional seaside conversation between a citizen of the future and a “neuro-interfaced seagull”—that the signal-to-noise ratio may prove to be too much for all but the most dedicated tech readers.
An assortment of complex and interesting ideas, buried under the weight of too much jargon.