Popular technology guru Carr (The Glass Cage: Automation and Us, 2014, etc.) offers a skeptical chronicle of the wonders of the digital revolution.
Since 2005, the author has kept running tabs on our high-tech age on his blog Rough Type, where he considers and sometimes eviscerates the latest overblown claims of the gods of Silicon Valley. In this bright, fun, telling book, he gathers 80 engaging blog posts from some 1,600 published through 2015, plus a selection of essays and reviews from the Atlantic and elsewhere. “We may blow kisses to agrarians like Jefferson and tree-huggers like Thoreau, but we put our faith in Edison and Ford, Gates and Zuckerberg,” writes Carr. “It is the technologists who shall lead us.” While tech leaders have promised a new world (with Bill Gates “still pitching a ‘digital lifestyle’ that nobody wants”), the author makes clear his own penchant for “tools for exploring and enjoying the world that is.” He takes strong exception to innumerable claims made for the internet: that it has liberated us from couch-potato lives (“horseshit”), raised us to a higher consciousness, spurred serendipity, and given us splendid gifts in Wikipedia (“a hodge-podge of dubious factoids”) and Twitter (“the medium of Narcissus”). Occasioned by his own observations and a close reading of new studies and books, Carr holds forth on major issues of the past decade, including copyright, innovation, online courses, e-books, video games, artificial intelligence, privacy, online sharing, automation, raising the virtual child, and smartphones. Throughout, his emphasis is on the human side of life in a digitized world. “The desire for privacy is strong; vanity is stronger,” he writes of Facebook’s business model. And: “Who you are is what you do between notifications.” Included are such notable essays as “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Some entries are slight, most others are nuanced and satisfying.
A collection that reminds us that critical thinking is the best way to view the mixed blessings of rampant technology. A treat for Carr fans.