Review: ‘The Internet Is NOT the Answer’
Though many see digital communication as a panacea for some of the problems facing rural America, a critic of Silicon Valley culture says the Internet may not be all it’s cracked up to be.
Spend a few minutes with just about anybody these days and eventually, the conversation will turn to something someone’s seen online. There’s a reason for that: more than three billion people, world-wide, use the internet. Researchers think that there’ll be 50 billion “smart” devices on the planet within the next five years.
That’s all good, right? All that connection, enhanced control, communication? We’ve made our lives better and more efficient.
Or not: while it’s true that online companies have made many a billionaire, that wealth is largely concentrated, Keen says, within a small group of people (mostly men), and near one major city. Those online entities have badly hurt the economy in that area, and they’ve badly hurt the economy in yours.
The reason, he says, is that the internet has killed jobs. Books you bought on Amazon, the lawn mower you got on eBay, the shoes you got from Zappos were all purchased with money you didn’t spend locally with local employers. Pictures posted on Instagram are no longer printed. The message you Facebooked wasn’t mailed.
Furthermore, says Keen, we’ve become unpaid employees of many of these high-tech corporations. Google, for instance, becomes better every time we look something up – but with each click, we do the work that enhances their product, both in function and for investors. We also aren’t compensated for our personal data, which they mine and sell.
And yet, says Keen, the internet isn’t all bad – it’s just that there’s more negative than there is positive. Failure, for example – a concept that Silicon Valley promotes as desirable – is quite undesirable, as is widespread piracy, hate-mongering, internet “trolls,” and incorrect information presented as truth. And communication? The fact, says Keen, is that, online, we’re talking to ourselves.
So if “The Internet is NOT the Answer,” then what is?
Author Andrew Keen offers solutions – some valid, some that might rankle readers, all that would involve world-wide cooperation. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder, as I read this book, if the horse isn’t already out of the metaphoric barn.
The conclusion on that wasn’t clear. Neither, as it turns out, are some other points: Keen, a Silicon Valley expert, naturally writes in tech-minded language with an expert’s mien and with obvious frustration. The latter becomes somewhat repetitive; the former lends strong, solid credibility but could also flummox non-tech businesspeople.
For that, I think if you’re a turn-on-the-computer-and-go kind of person with IT on speed-dial, this maybe isn’t the book for you. But if you’re stuck like a fly in the World Wide Web and your life is largely lived online, then “The Internet is NOT the Answer” is a book you won’t be able to put down.