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Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mobby Lee Siegel
Synopses & Reviews
The World Is All That Is the Case But here I am, sitting in the future--I mean the present--in front of my laptop. Just about everyone around me has a laptop open also. The small mass of barely variegated gray panels looks like a scene out of Fritz Lang's Metropolis, but with modems and Danishes. I can hardly see anyone else's face behind the screens, and no one seems to be doing anything socially or psychologically that might be fun to try to figure out. They are bent into their screens and toward their self-interest. My attention, too, is turned toward my ego. But I am paying attention in a different way from what I do when I read a book or a newspaper. I am opening e-mail sent to me, writinge-mail expressing one or another desire that belongs to me, clicking on Google looking for information to be used by me. Ten years ago, the space in a coffeehouse abounded in experience. Now that social space has been contracted into isolated points of wanting, all locked into separate phases of inwardness.
The new situation doesn't represent the lack of community suddenly produced by the Internet. That is the hackneyed complaint made, again and again, by people who don't seem to have thought through the unlovely aspects of community--its smug provincialism and punitive conventionalism, its stasis and xenophobia--which was in any case jeopardized and transformed by the advent of modernity two hundred years ago. The simple fact is that sometimes you don't want the quiet conformities induced by community; sometimes you simply want to be alone, yet together with other people at the same time. The old-fashioned cafe provided a way to both share and abandon solitude, a fluid, intermediary experience that humans are always trying to create and perfect. The Internet could have been its fulfillment. But sitting absorbed in your screenworld is a whole other story. You are socially and psychologically cut off from your fellow caffeine addicts, but mentally beset by e-mails, commercial pop-ups, and a million temptations that may enchant in the moment--aimed as they are at your specific and immediate interests and desires--but in retrospect are time-wasting ephemera. It's not community that the laptopization of the
In a critical study of modern technology, a senior editor at The New Republic analyzes the World Wide Web and complementary developments in terms of its negative influence on the people who use them, arguing that modern technology has given rise to a new, malevolent mass culture that threatens the ideals of humanity, democracy, and the individual. 25,000 first printing.
From the author hailed by the New York Times Book Review for his “drive-by brilliance” and dubbed by the New York Times Magazine as “one of the country’s most eloquent and acid-tongued critics” comes a ruthless challenge to the conventional wisdom about the most consequential cultural development of our time: the Internet.
Of course the Internet is not one thing or another; if anything, its boosters claim, the Web is everything at once. It’s become not only our primary medium for communication and information but also the place we go to shop, to play, to debate, to find love. Lee Siegel argues that our ever-deepening immersion in life online doesn’t just reshape the ordinary rhythms of our days; it also reshapes our minds and culture, in ways with which we haven’t yet reckoned. The web and its cultural correlatives and by-products—such as the dominance of reality television and the rise of the “bourgeois bohemian”—have turned privacy into performance, play into commerce, and confused “self-expression” with art. And even as technology gurus ply their trade using the language of freedom and democracy, we cede more and more control of our freedom and individuality to the needs of the machine—that confluence of business and technology whose boundaries now stretch to encompass almost all human activity.
Siegel’s argument isn’t a Luddite intervention against the Internet itself but rather a bracing appeal for us to contend with how it is transforming us all. Dazzlingly erudite, full of startlingly original insights, and buoyed by sharp wit, Against the Machine will force you to see our culture—for better and worse—in an entirely new way.
About the Author
LEE SIEGEL is a senior editor at The New Republic, author of the essay collection Falling Upwards, and winner of the 2002 National Magazine Award for Reviews and Criticism. He lives in New York City.
Table of Contents
"The world is all that is the case" — Bait and switch — The me is the message — The context of participatory culture — Down with popular culture — Participatory culture — A dream come true — Being there — The emperor's new modem — Epilogue: Homo interneticus.
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Computers and Internet » Computers Reference » Social Aspects » General