Technology, Power, and Resistance in the New Gilded Age
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How the ubiquity of smartphones has transformed society.

Sociologist Aschoff (The New Prophets of Capital, 2015) provides both historical context and political insight, showing what is new in the current technological revolution and recalling earlier times when technology upended the status quo. As “the new Gilded Age” of the subtitle suggests, the author reminds us of how the automobile changed everything, especially the economy. Yet while radical change was widespread, society survived the aftershocks and advanced. “People have always been anxious about new technology,” writes Aschoff, without minimizing the profound imbalances the smartphone underscores, especially in terms of economic and social inequality. She shows how activists have used the smartphone to document police brutality against black citizens while police (and the government at large) have employed the same technology of interconnection for monitoring and surveillance. Two of the most important recent social movements—#MeToo and Black Lives Matter—are both phenomena that have spread virally through a culture enabled by smartphones. At the same time, this culture has allowed the mobilization of white nationalists and other dangerous elements. We get our news on our phones, form our political beliefs, and see them echoed by like-minded partisans. The smartphone has all but dissolved the distinction between the personal and the political while changing the way we shop, date, and present ourselves to the outside world, with which we so often connect by smartphone. All the while, we are enriching and enabling global empires through collected data and underpaid labor. “Our fantasies about the digital frontier,” writes Aschoff, “hide the hierarchical and ecologically destructive relationships of global capitalism.” The author doesn’t advocate for opting out, nor does she believe that the worst-case scenario is inevitable. Instead, she offers advice for pushing back and establishing some personal autonomy in the fight for “digital justice.”

A concise analysis of how best to live within the brave new smartphone world.

Pub Date: March 10th, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-8070-6168-8
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Beacon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2019