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World Without Mind: Why Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple Threaten Our Future

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The early twenty-first century has seen a revolution in the control of knowledge and information. Without pausing to consider the cost, we have allowed four titanic corporations to become the most powerful gatekeepers the world has ever known. We shop with Amazon; socialise on Facebook; turn to Apple for entertainment; and rely on Google for information. But what do these c The early twenty-first century has seen a revolution in the control of knowledge and information. Without pausing to consider the cost, we have allowed four titanic corporations to become the most powerful gatekeepers the world has ever known. We shop with Amazon; socialise on Facebook; turn to Apple for entertainment; and rely on Google for information. But what do these companies really want, and what will be the lasting effects of their monopolies for our culture? As Franklin Foer so convincingly argues in this brilliant polemic, they have produced an unstable and narrow culture of misinformation. They have set us on a path to a world without private contemplation, autonomous thought, or solitary introspection – a world without mind. At stake is nothing less than who we are, and what we will become. World Without Mind makes a passionate, deeply informed case for the need to reclaim our intellectual culture before it is too late. It’s a message that could not be more timely.


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The early twenty-first century has seen a revolution in the control of knowledge and information. Without pausing to consider the cost, we have allowed four titanic corporations to become the most powerful gatekeepers the world has ever known. We shop with Amazon; socialise on Facebook; turn to Apple for entertainment; and rely on Google for information. But what do these c The early twenty-first century has seen a revolution in the control of knowledge and information. Without pausing to consider the cost, we have allowed four titanic corporations to become the most powerful gatekeepers the world has ever known. We shop with Amazon; socialise on Facebook; turn to Apple for entertainment; and rely on Google for information. But what do these companies really want, and what will be the lasting effects of their monopolies for our culture? As Franklin Foer so convincingly argues in this brilliant polemic, they have produced an unstable and narrow culture of misinformation. They have set us on a path to a world without private contemplation, autonomous thought, or solitary introspection – a world without mind. At stake is nothing less than who we are, and what we will become. World Without Mind makes a passionate, deeply informed case for the need to reclaim our intellectual culture before it is too late. It’s a message that could not be more timely.

30 review for World Without Mind: Why Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple Threaten Our Future

  1. 5 out of 5

    Charles

    Franklin Foer’s “World Without Mind” is an excellent book. It identifies important problems, ties the problems to their historical precedents, and suggests some reasonable solutions. The book is not complete, or perfect, but in the emerging literature of why and how to curb the power of giant technology companies, this book is a useful introduction, although there is a long way to go from here to there. Foer is primarily known as having been editor of “The New Republic,” for several years during Franklin Foer’s “World Without Mind” is an excellent book. It identifies important problems, ties the problems to their historical precedents, and suggests some reasonable solutions. The book is not complete, or perfect, but in the emerging literature of why and how to curb the power of giant technology companies, this book is a useful introduction, although there is a long way to go from here to there. Foer is primarily known as having been editor of “The New Republic,” for several years during the modern era, ending in 2014. Editors come and go, of course, but at the time his dismissal by a new owner felt like a watershed event among the chattering classes in America. This was because the new owner was Chris Hughes—a man of distinctly modest talent and even more modest accomplishments, who became filthy rich by the happenstance of being Mark Zuckerberg’s roommate at Harvard. Hughes, after a brief period of operating The New Republic in close cooperation with Foer, using traditional (i.e., money-losing) journalism, hired some eighth-rate web traffic geek to turn the magazine into clickbait. In that environment, of course, Foer was of no use, so Hughes fired him in the boorish and incompetent manner typical of nouveau riche men of his generation and class. (Hughes no longer owns the magazine, having failed even at operating a clickbait site, and has since moved on to other failures.) In part, as he admits, Foer wrote his book in response to these events. But this is not a revenge job; it’s just that the story of The New Republic’s travails is illuminating to Foer’s points. Those points are clearly and well made. Yes, Foer seems to think that most history began in the 1960s, with perhaps a few events from the 1700s onward being mildly relevant. But that is an occupational hazard for the educated members of Generation X, and, after all, most of the relevant history to this book began in the 1990s, so if you must have a narrow historical vision, it might as well be in a book about the evils of modern technology firms. Foer begins with a Prologue, which in many ways is the most intriguing part of the book. Here Foer introduces a key historical parallel for the book, 1950s and 1960s food re-engineering creating the dominance of processed food and frozen dinners. He analogizes that change to the emergent dominance of the technology companies (by which he means “GAFA”—Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon). As far as food goes, we were promised “convenience, efficiency, and abundance.” We got it—and we also, without meaning to, hugely damaged “our waistline, longevity, soul, and planet.” We were promised similar, but more utopian, benefits by the GAFA companies, some of which we got, along with a heaping of unexpected Bad Things. This tension, between the promises of technology and its costs, is the backbone of Foer’s book. In his Prologue, Foer also lays out a philosophical framework, focusing on what I think is the critical point. “More than any other previous coterie of corporations, the tech monopolists aspire to mold humanity into their desired image of it.” Although he does not use these terms, Foer’s basic point throughout the book is that the GAFA companies and their masters deny the telos of man. They refuse to acknowledge that man has an inherent nature or purpose. Instead, they view humanity in purely instrumentalist terms, subject to unending manipulation—all for mankind’s own improvement, of course, as well as their profit. Thus, while Silicon Valley is often viewed as libertarian, it is not—it is monopolist in economic intent and collectivist utopian in social intent, even if that utopia uses the superficial language of liberty. Silicon Valley considers “the concentration of power in its companies . . . an urgent social good, the precursor to global harmony; a necessary condition for undoing the alienation of mankind.” This utopia is a collectivist one, not one personal to the individual. In fact, Foer even semi-lyrically complains (not citing Josef Pieper, though he should) that “The tech companies are destroying something precious, which is the possibility of contemplation.” And, even if such a utopia may seem desirable, Foer think that utopia is not on its way. Rather, we face enforced conformity, a total loss of privacy, the erosion of thoughtful self-government, and the hobbling of creative genius. We’re becoming Spam—a mediocre, indistinguishable, controlled mass of meat contained in a metaphysical box. Foer traces this desire by the masters of GAFA, for global harmony and the end of alienation, to the 1960s. More precisely, to Stewart Brand, who founded the “Whole Earth Catalog,” and to other pop culture icons like Marshall McLuhan. While I suppose this is true in part, it is a crimped vision. Seeking, and believing you have found, the key to global harmony and the end of alienation has a vastly longer pedigree—through Marxism and its variants; through 19th Century German philosophy; and through much Enlightenment thought. Of course, as Foer sometimes seems to hint, these latter day eschatons are mere secular versions of the ancient Judeo-Christian vision, and Facebook and Google merely offer different re-workings of the Serpent in the Garden, promising us that we will be as gods. Stewart Brand and other hippies are, in truth, irrelevant carbuncles on the shoulders of giants. But Foer’s basic point is true enough—this vision was influential in forming the vision of today’s tech leaders, and it is utopian in form and content. Despite the libertarian stereotype, it is “the exact opposite of Ayn Rand’s vision of libertarianism; [it is] a hunger for cooperation, sharing, and a self-conscious awareness of our place in a larger system.” “World Without Mind” addresses each of the GAFA firms in turn, with a focus on the history of each as it relates to Foer’s theses. None of these companies, of course, produce any relevant amount of knowledge. They are instead gatekeepers and filters, offering efficiency to consumers in exchange for a piece of the action. Foer does not object to the gatekeeper role, as such. He is perfectly well aware that the mass of information that is the Internet cannot be directly addressed by any human and still be of any use. He notes that in the past journalists (totally coincidentally, people just like him) were the honored gatekeepers of both information and its importance, as well as arbiters of much of culture. His Golden Age is the time when the owners of the Washington Post honored objectivity, de-emphasized profitability, and regarded their news outlets as a public trust. Foer is aware that this Golden Age was sometimes tarnished, although his examples tend to focus on the clichéd (they enabled Nixon!), not the real (conservatives have been suppressed for decades). But again, his basic point, that the GAFA companies are more like Cerberus out for a snack than a paladin keeping enemies out of the gate, is sound. Foer begins with Google, noting that Google regards its actual mission as creating strong AI, followed by augmented humanity and a world where scarcity has been eliminated and all limits on man disappear. I have long known this (it is not like Google keeps it a secret, though few seem to focus on it), but my reaction has always been that Google will ultimately collapse, since this is a stupid business model. Any company that hires Ray Kurzweil to be a top executive is delusional and wasting the shareholders’ money—if the goal is to offer the shareholders money, which here it isn’t. As Foer says, Kurzweil’s “main business is prophecy.” Prophecy does not pay the bills, or at least false prophecy doesn’t. But Foer is correct, and my old reaction was wrong—the business model doesn’t require competition to survive if Google has carved out a niche of permanent dominance, by having such an amount of data that no competitor can even begin to think of competing, and if it has, it can do whatever it wants, whether it makes any business sense or not. Next comes Facebook, whose goal is not the creation of non-human progress, but rather directly augmenting human social progress, by bringing people together, while at the same time telling them what thoughts are permitted to think, and increasingly manipulating them into what to think. Facebook’s focus is algorithmic thinking to apply that data, to which outsiders are not privy, only the priests of Zuckerberg. Finally, Amazon monopolizes power over authors (Foer mostly ignores Amazon’s non-book sales) and thereby erodes authorial incentive, thereby crushing genius. Amazon crushes authorial genius in books; Google and Facebook do it in newspapers and periodicals; Apple erodes it in music (Apple gets the least direct abuse in this book, implicitly because it has the least power of the type Foer complains of). But before we get to authorial incentive, we should treat Foer’s grander, if less visceral, objection to the behavior of the GAFA companies. That is, why is any of this a problem? It is because their power is destroying our ability to govern ourselves. They are “knowledge monopolies,” a new variation on an old theme. Foer’s other Golden Age is one, from roughly 1880 to 1980, when antitrust enforcement was much more aggressive than today. He divides that into two time periods, though, only one of which he feels should be our new model. In earlier years, monopoly was viewed, by men such as Louis Brandeis, through the Jeffersonian lens of an unhealthy concentration of power tending to the degradation of democracy through its corruption of the democratic process. In later years, however, from roughly 1940 on, monopolies came to be viewed by enforcers only as a problem when they harmed consumers, by raising prices or reducing choice—that is, when they were inefficient. The problem, though, is that today’s monopolies, at least on the surface, benefit consumers quite a bit. They are extremely efficient in that sense. Thus, when in the 1970s academics such as Robert Bork pushed to revise the law to, in effect, only recognize this latter theory, and this view became wholly dominant, the tools to attack monopoly as a broader menace to our society had disappeared. Foer wants to restore those tools, for, as he says, “The Framers preferred liberty to efficiency,” because any monopoly is ultimately the enemy of liberty, especially a monopoly with power over knowledge and communication, which tends to create conformity, the bane of a free people. As to authorial incentive, there is little doubt that the GAFA companies have reduced the power of, and payments to, authors, which must necessarily reduce incentive to create. Foer sees keeping such payments high as a key pillar of our society. To demonstrate this, he focuses on copyright. He claims that “one of [government’s] primary economic responsibilities is preserving the value of knowledge.” Although there is something to this, and Foer cites both the Constitution and the 1710 Statute of Anne, the progenitor of generally applicable copyright law, he reaches too far when he claims, in essence, that today’s copyright law is a critical element of our entire social system, and, by implication, if authors get paid less due to changing competition, it tears at the fabric of our society. For one, we got by just fine when copyright lengths were far shorter (a maximum of 28 years until relatively recently—now it’s the entire life of the author plus 70 years!). (It is both not true as a reason for the growth of copyright, and an anachronism as an argument, when, speaking of Wordsworth and early copyright, Foer says “Because poets were rarely appreciated in their own time, copyright protections needed to be lengthy—so that there was enough time for the public’s taste to catch up with genius.”) For another, we got by just fine when there was no copyright at all, and when it was spotty in framework and enforcement. Sure, there’s a good argument that more rigid copyright helps authorial creativity and production. Yes, Larry Lessig makes far too broad claims, and yes, anyone who believes “information wants to be free” is an idiot. Yes, the theory that crowdsourced authoring, such as Wikipedia, can compete in accuracy of content or style of delivery with professional, paid content has proven utterly false, as has the idea that crowdsourced anything offers a viable model to replace any paid model with something qualitatively better (other than, perhaps, reviews of consumer products and services). But let’s not elevate any of this to a core principle of good government. Moreover, Amazon is not Napster. Foer’s objection is that Amazon devalues the traditional hierarchy of authors imposed by publishing houses, instead substituting the whims of the market, and also eroding the power of the publishing houses through its economic dominance. All true, but this is not theft, and copyright law seems to be working as it’s supposed to for authors. So, it’s probably inaccurate to call Amazon a “knowledge monopoly”—it is more of a monopsonist, one whose dominance over the buyer’s market, in this case as middleman, allows it to set prices. “Monopoly” is a term better suited to Google and Facebook (although they too erode authorial incentive, as a side effort to controlling the flow of information). This is a less sexy and less compelling claim, though, than that all four GAFA companies are a monolith placing dynamite at the foundation of society. Regardless of which company should be focus, Foer offers a set of solutions to his two identified problems. First, we should restore the old understanding of monopoly, and the federal government should take aggressive enforcement action. Any firm that controls knowledge to a great degree, especially one that filters that knowledge in a non-neutral way, should be curbed or broken. Second, and buttressing this effort, new regulations, under the aegis of a “Data Protection Authority,” should be created to sharply limit the collection and use of data by technology companies, including requiring automatic deletion of data except upon opt-in and “insist[ing] that they provide equal access to a multiplicity of sources and viewpoints.” Third, we should all realize we need to pay, and we should go back to paying, for quality authorial work, rather than thinking content should be free, and thereby both undercutting authorship and allowing Google and Facebook to direct us, unknowingly, to content they select that we should be consciously choosing for ourselves. Fourth, as with the way much of America has recoiled from processed food, factory farming and other perceived evils (even though that is often “really purchasing the sensation of virtue and rectitude”), we should seek to restore “cachet” to “books, essays, and journalism.” In other words, we should be more highbrow. I think, at a minimum in the abstract, all of these are good ideas. I, at least, had already started subscribing to more and more periodicals, in paper form, and have abandoned my Kindle, as has Foer. If I’ve done it, there must be something to it! I think, though, that absolute neutrality for all non-obscene content should be required, not just offering “a multiplicity of sources and viewpoints,” which is just another word for picking and choosing what is permitted to think. Any technology company that censors any non-obscene content for non-viewpoint neutral reasons should be subject to massive government fines and a private right of action with huge statutory monetary damages. But these are details—the question now is, how can we get this party started? Foer explicitly thinks that while these proposals seem unlikely to be accepted, that there will be some “catastrophe,” a “Big One,” where some mass exposure of private data will cause such damage to the average person that voters will demand something be done. This is certainly possible (the recent Equifax hack tends in this direction, though it is far from catastrophic enough). Foer says “The best analogy is the financial crisis of 2008. There was nothing that the banks could do to gain political traction in the face of the catastrophe that they unleashed.” Really? In the world I live in, corrupt politicians cooperated with corrupt bankers to make sure banks were completely insulated from the effects of their actions, and exited the 2008 crisis in far better shape than before, having paid no price at all, and passed all the costs on to the average American. It’s the latter, not banks, who lack “political traction.” In fact, I am willing to bet most dictionaries today illustrate their entry for “political traction” with a line drawing of Jamie Dimon. This weak analogy suggests the key flaw in Foer’s hope—catastrophes nowadays are used by the powerful to advance their own interests, not to make changes for the benefit of society as a whole. In all likelihood, unfortunately, the same would happen in a catastrophic data breach. Some argue that action is not necessary, only more competition over time. Once Microsoft was dominant; now it is not (though it still dominates certain software markets). Once buggy whips were sold all over America. At some point in the near future, probably sooner rather than later, so the argument goes, the GAFA companies will also cede their dominance to new competition. Foer disagrees—he thinks that the collection of data these companies have make them nearly impossible to dislodge from their position. Another argument, made by Tim Wu in “The Attention Merchants,” is that it is primarily our job, not the government’s, to change things. Foer certainly agrees with this in part, as shown by his strong advocacy of returning to paid content and his suggestion that readers, by their consumer choices, have the ability to reverse the monopolistic dominance of the GAFA companies. That is, even aside from any government action, we have the power to redirect our attention. A third argument, related to the second, is that the system we have is what the people want. We get what we deserve, and just because it’s trashy and damaging doesn’t mean we don’t deserve it. Foer, certainly, overstates the ability of the masses to appreciate high-level thought and culture. They want Upworthy, not “The New Yorker.” Foer ascribes the decline of mass appreciation for classical music to Baumol’s cost disease (where activities that have not increased in productivity over time, such as live music performances, become relatively more expensive). That doesn’t even make any sense—live performances are not how classical music is consumed; excellent recordings have been ubiquitous for nearly a century. The decline is much more likely because the coarse tastes of the common people have become economically, and therefore socially, dominant. (For the record, I cannot myself appreciate classical music at all; it all sounds like elevator music to me. I prefer EDM, thus exhibiting my own coarseness.) While these arguments may have something to them, they do not contradict Foer’s core assertion that aggressive government control of knowledge monopolies, now, will benefit society. [Review finishes as first comment.]

  2. 5 out of 5

    Marks54

    How to begin on this well-intended but not very successful effort at painting the dark side of Internet dominance by such firms as Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple, and the like? - Oh Brave New World that has such platforms in it! Or perhaps ... - Former editor of the New Republic used to be a fan of the Internet and its New Age independent spirit. What he thinks about it now will blow your mind! Mr. Foer is concerned about the long term threats to our freedom posed by the dominant monopoly positions How to begin on this well-intended but not very successful effort at painting the dark side of Internet dominance by such firms as Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple, and the like? - Oh Brave New World that has such platforms in it! Or perhaps ... - Former editor of the New Republic used to be a fan of the Internet and its New Age independent spirit. What he thinks about it now will blow your mind! Mr. Foer is concerned about the long term threats to our freedom posed by the dominant monopoly positions of Google, Facebook, Amazon, and others. (It is sort of a monopoly position, since Foer is not a fan of technical definitions by economists and lawyers - except when they support him, such as Arnold or Brandeis - but I digress.). What is the problem? Well by collecting and analyzing so much information and by having so many users, these large firms can control how we think about the world, what we read, who we link up with and talk to, and what we buy. We retain our free will - nominally - but without real choices what is to become of our lives? As AI gets more powerful and begins to dominate human actors, even our identities will come into question. Holy "brains in a vat" Batman, the world of the Matrix is just around the corner! While we are not quite there yet, the book is filled with examples of how these large network platform behemoths behave like monopolists and restrict the potential for anyone to effectively compete with them - or even protest what they are doing. There is a growing genre of business dystopian books and accounts that are interesting to read and perhaps even more valuable by providing a damper to the technological march of triumph and hype that fill a lot of the popular business press. Algorithms will not solve all of our problems - nor will big data. These ventures and the large firms they morph into are run by people who suffer from all of the moral failings and personal agendas of the rest of us - more depending on who you read. It is valuable to have a questioning chorus on the stage. The work of the gadfly, however, also gets scrutinized, as well as the alternative program for action, if any, that is offered in the critique. Much of what Mr. Foer presents is not new. Amazon has come in for occasional criticism by its competitors and suppliers - and even occasionally by its customers. Facebook has been accused of numerous failings, most recently for its accepting of phony ads during the recent presidential campaign, and I saw little new in this account. The same is true for Google, whose growth to dominance has received much media attention, including some criticism. Mr. Foer concludes his book with a call for enhanced antitrust scrutiny of the platform giants. I do not disagree with him on this, up to a point. It has never been illegal in the US to get very big - indeed to become a monopoly. The problem comes when a position of monopoly power in a market is obtained by acting in an uncompetitive way in the market that is monopolized. Very few have criticized the platform giants for inefficiency. Indeed, that is the point for Mr. Foer, that these firms are so much more efficient than their competitors from earlier generations, that the competitors do not stand a chance. Why get your news on an inky and sometimes soggy wad of paper in the morning when you can look it up anytime on your phone - for free? The problem is to identify what the market is where the anticompetitive behavior is occurring and demonstrate that such behavior is occurring and is anticompetitive. That might well be possible - and for all I know may be the subject of current litigation. We have no insight on this from Mr. Foer's account unfortunately but will have to look it up for ourselves on Google. For me, Mr. Foer was most insightful in discussing the fate of print media and writers under the digital onslaught, drawing on his experience at the New Republic. Even here though, while the details are fascinating there is little new to shed light on these problems which have been plaguing print media for decades (even before the Internet was upon us after Netscape). On the plight of individual writers, I am sorry but anyone who did not know this has not been paying attention. Most people who get paid anything to write need to have a day job - or a professionally employed partner. In terms of solutions, Mr. Foer's idea that the government is the actor that will save us from Google or Facebook is a head scratcher. The government is what gave us the Internet in the first place so why is it that some government agency (DARPA or DOJ) will be able to cope with the highly skilled and credentialed minions at Google or Amazon? There apppears to be a trace of fear that consolidation in the private sectors will consolidate everything and even take over a number of governmental functions. I understand that fear - it is literally as American as Apple Pie. In fact, we are coming up in January 2018 on the 130 year anniversary of the publication of "Looking Backward" by Edward Bellamy, which posits such a corporatist future -albeit with no Internet. The fact that one can envisage a corporate takeover of the US, however, does not mean that such a takeover is likely or a reasonable extrapolation from current issues of corporate power. Seriously, JK Galbraith was concerned about the corporate power of Ford in the 1960s with "The New Industrial State". How did that work out? Let's just say I am not persuaded.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Maas

    An important book, but one that is difficult to read - because it holds up a mirror to our society and ourselves I did not enjoy this book. I loved it, I recommend it, and Franklin Foer's insights are important - but this is not enjoyable. Why? Because it got me away from all the free services that I love - and showed me the cost of it. Some call it a mirror to the tech industry, I call it a mirror to ourselves - because isn't Big Tech a reflection of all of us? Here are a few insights: On the myth An important book, but one that is difficult to read - because it holds up a mirror to our society and ourselves I did not enjoy this book. I loved it, I recommend it, and Franklin Foer's insights are important - but this is not enjoyable. Why? Because it got me away from all the free services that I love - and showed me the cost of it. Some call it a mirror to the tech industry, I call it a mirror to ourselves - because isn't Big Tech a reflection of all of us? Here are a few insights: On the myth of Tech Libertarianism They didn’t harbor a shred of alienation. They were at one with humanity. It was the same craving he felt when contemplating that missing photograph of Earth. This thinking was the exact opposite of Ayn Rand’s vision of libertarianism; a hunger for cooperation, sharing, and a self-conscious awareness of our place in a larger system. Tech companies aren't one person against the world - they are shaped by data, by the users - and the result is not an Ayn Rand train, but rather something else entirely. On Google's grand mission PAGE AND BRIN ARE CREATING a brain unhindered by human bias, uninfluenced by irrational desires and dubious sensory instructions that emanate from the body. In pursuing this goal, they are attempting to complete a mission that began long before the invention of the computer. Google is trying solve a problem that first emerged several centuries ago, amid the blazing battle between the entrenched church and the emerging science. It’s a project that originated with modern philosophy itself and the figure of René Descartes. On Kurzweil and the Singularity Kurzweil is aware of the metaphysical implications of his theory. He called one of his treatises The Age of Spiritual Machines. His descriptions of life after the singularity are nothing short of rapturous. “Our civilization will then expand outward, turning all the dumb matter and energy we encounter into sublimely intelligent—transcendent—matter and energy. On the Algorithm overturning human's standard processes for progress For the entirety of human existence, the creation of knowledge was a slog of trial and error. Humans would dream up theories of how the world worked, then would examine the evidence to see whether their hypotheses survived or crashed upon their exposure to reality. Algorithms upend the scientific method—the patterns emerge from the data, from correlations, unguided by hypotheses. They remove humans from the whole process of inquiry. Writing in Wired, Chris Anderson argued: “We can stop looking for models. On a world where no one person truly understands the entirety of technology any more Perhaps Facebook no longer fully understands its own tangle of algorithms—the code, all sixty million lines of it, is a palimpsest, where engineers add layer upon layer of new commands. (This is hardly a condition unique to Facebook. The Cornell University computer scientist Jon Kleinberg cowrote an essay that argued, “We have, perhaps for the first time ever, built machines we do not understand. . . . At some deep level we don’t even really understand how they’re producing the behavior we observe. This is the essence of their incomprehensibility.” What’s striking is that the “we” in that sentence refers to the creators of code.) Conclusion What's the conclusion? Foer has many, but above all else - we should be aware that all the free things Big Tech gives us are not truly free, and this goes beyond us selling our profile through data. There are hidden ramifications - from an president whose main qualification is that he can write outrageous Tweets, to the Singularity - which may make systems smarter than us. But in short, there are many ends to everything we are getting for free, and we should be wary of all of them.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Anita Pomerantz

    While I confess that I didn't agree with much of this book, I found it to be fascinating. Foer basically argues that companies that are dominating data collection (namely Facebook, Google, and Amazon) are monopolies because they are able to use that data to (unfairly) compete. He is critical of the fact that government has allowed these monopolies to evolve and that consumers are making a bargain with the devil, trading off freedom for efficiency. What he fails to do, to my satisfaction, is indica While I confess that I didn't agree with much of this book, I found it to be fascinating. Foer basically argues that companies that are dominating data collection (namely Facebook, Google, and Amazon) are monopolies because they are able to use that data to (unfairly) compete. He is critical of the fact that government has allowed these monopolies to evolve and that consumers are making a bargain with the devil, trading off freedom for efficiency. What he fails to do, to my satisfaction, is indicate what we should do about it. He seems to have some vague ideas about the government's ability to protect privacy and that if the upper echelons of society would all just elevate reading on paper (newspapers, magazines, books) to the level it deserves, it would somehow permeate the rest of society. He has a lot more faith in the political machine than I do. Personally, it seems to me that the horse is out of the barn, and there's going to be no reining it in. Foer seems to imply that no company will ever compete with the Google, Facebook, and Amazon triad because only they have the computing power necessary to crunch all the data, and they are the only ones who have collected all the data to crunch. While right now, the latter may be true, I am pretty sure computing power will continue to get cheaper and more accessible. Perhaps companies will form data conglomerates to pool their data for better leverage. I believe a lot of this data is already available for sale, so not sure it's as proprietary as Foer implies. However, I loved the way Foer makes his case. The book is filled with passages that make you think and interwoven with historical comparisons that provide context. He strikes me as pretty biased in his thought process (the guy was an editor), but if you take it as a long opinion piece, it's a good read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Peter Mcloughlin

    Silicon Valley dreams of merging mind and machine. If, however, minds merge with machines it will also merge with the corporations that provide the platforms for those machines and corporations dream of monopoly. Monopolies love homogeneity and reliable revenue streams and finally control. This unpleasant syllogism is the logic of GAFA (Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple etc.) The book focuses on intellectual property but we are living in a sci-fi plot let's not make it a dystopian one, please.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ietrio

    An old man and his fears. The good old times were better. But the old man is not smart enough to know the old times were better because they were past, hence easy to manage. Otherwise, a mindless primitivist statement. Same concerns were generated at every new item in the life of humans. The industrial was bad. But the poverty of today has a comfort few kings had only two centuries ago. The car was bad, but we all depend on it and even those hypocrite enough to dump it are glad to use it from tim An old man and his fears. The good old times were better. But the old man is not smart enough to know the old times were better because they were past, hence easy to manage. Otherwise, a mindless primitivist statement. Same concerns were generated at every new item in the life of humans. The industrial was bad. But the poverty of today has a comfort few kings had only two centuries ago. The car was bad, but we all depend on it and even those hypocrite enough to dump it are glad to use it from time to time. Synthetic fibers? Not natural, yet fewer people die of frost today than before them. And that is only about clothes. The problem in the end is not the argument, as everyone is entitled to their views. Is the qualifications that are lacking.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kusaimamekirai

    I’ve read some criticism of Foer and this book that it’s mainly an outgrowth of his bitterness about being fired from his job as editor of The New Republic (bitterness which he admits has lingered) and his being anti technology. It does certainly seem that in 2017 if you do not 100% worship social media or deign to criticize what it may be doing to society you are quickly labelled as backwards and wanting to go back to the Dark Ages of 20 years ago. I do not believe this criticism of Foer is fa I’ve read some criticism of Foer and this book that it’s mainly an outgrowth of his bitterness about being fired from his job as editor of The New Republic (bitterness which he admits has lingered) and his being anti technology. It does certainly seem that in 2017 if you do not 100% worship social media or deign to criticize what it may be doing to society you are quickly labelled as backwards and wanting to go back to the Dark Ages of 20 years ago. I do not believe this criticism of Foer is fair however. After reading this thought provoking book I thought Foer raised some legitimate questions about where this technological revolution is taking us. He discusses the professed altruism of companies like Google and Facebook which claim to want to make a more democratic society without gatekeepers, and yet they are the ultimate gatekeepers of knowledge. So much of the knowledge we take in is first filtered and custom sorted by them into what they believe we want. Is this more democratic or this just exchanging a small cluster of media conglomerates for one or two all powerful ones? For example, there is an excellent chapter where Foer discusses Google’s plan to digitize the libraries of the world. For a time Google kept its plan highly secret. Why? The massive copyright issues they ignored notwithstanding, its plan as one executive said, was not to offer these books to the public, but to feed the information into its artificial intelligence project which hopes to recreate human thought. Do companies which control an unprecedented amount of private information about so manym truly have the public’s best interest at heart or do we need to exercise more oversight over them? Where I particularly agree with Foer is in his assessment that it seems the public has little desire to slow Google or Facebook down or has much apprehension about relinquishing its privacy to them. The need for instant access to information and connection has become so compelling that privacy seems a small price to pay. As Foer so elegantly puts it however: "That's the authoritarian temptation: that liberty comes to seem a small price for trains that run on time. To update the thought-it's not worth having free email if the price is our privacy; next day delivery is nice, but not if the consequence is a sole company dominating retail, setting the market price for goods and labor."

  8. 5 out of 5

    Gary Moreau

    As a national correspondent for The Atlantic and the former editor of The New Republic, Franklin Foer has had more than a front row seat during the battle between the digital and the print world over knowledge. He has been in the fray and has the scars to prove it. He is, as a result, more than a little resentful, a reality, however, that he readily admits, an admission in keeping with the culture of publishing nobility that the warriors of tech have so gleefully knocked from its pedestal. Truth As a national correspondent for The Atlantic and the former editor of The New Republic, Franklin Foer has had more than a front row seat during the battle between the digital and the print world over knowledge. He has been in the fray and has the scars to prove it. He is, as a result, more than a little resentful, a reality, however, that he readily admits, an admission in keeping with the culture of publishing nobility that the warriors of tech have so gleefully knocked from its pedestal. Truth and motivation, however, are not the same thing and much of what Foer says has considerable merit. His perspective deserves to be heard, not because he has suffered, but because he is right on many fronts. There is little question that the historical line in the sand between journalism and advertising has been obliterated by the digital stampede. A significant amount of content on every news feed is, in fact, sponsored by commercial interests. An even greater amount, we can assume, is influenced. And that’s not even counting the blatantly false, which sometimes gets uncovered, but not before the damage is done. He is also right that the digital world is not a virtuous world of empowered democracy, giving even the most common among us an equal voice. We all have a voice but others – or the algorithms they design - control which of our voices is heard. Those decisions may be reactive (the gatekeepers push what is already popular) but it is naïve to think that selection doesn’t yield considerable influence in a world that is drowning in raw data and images. Journalism, as Foer points out, is a race to clicks monitored in real time. The ability to write a headline that will get clicked is as important as the ability to write the content it refers to. And it is true that the tech giants don’t leave this to chance. They test and model in a laboratory without walls, often without our knowledge. There is little question that while we have immediate access to more information now than in the history of humankind, it has been homogenized to the point of banality. Even the suggestively naughty pictures and titillating headlines have lost their power to keep our attention. I, for one, have lost all interest in the daily habits of reality tv stars and the latest slap down from celebrity-seekers putting body shamers in their place. It is true that authors and journalists can no longer – with the exception of celebrities which is, by definition, a limited commodity – make a sustainable wage as the price of knowledge and content has been driven to zero, but the answer, I believe, is not charging for content. That’s just not going to happen and there remains an idealistic part of me that doesn’t want it to. One of the best points made by Foer is that the advancement of technology has, for many reasons, undermined all public interest in corporate regulation. The free net, as it were, has allowed the big technology companies to amass a monopoly power that the robber barons of the late nineteenth century could only dream of. But is regulation the answer? Can a faceless bureaucrat, in the end, be assumed to be any more noble-minded than the CEO of Tech Inc? I’m not so sure. To draw an analogy, I think noblesse oblige, on the political front, could be no worse than what we have now. We have “democracy” in name only. Foer points out that in world of book publishing paper, by some statistics, seems to be making a small comeback. I don’t believe, however, that it has anything to do with a nostalgia for books that we can touch and feel. I think it is directly explained by the fact that publishers now price their e-books at or very close to the hardcover versions. At this juncture in the evolution, I suspect, consumers are simply saying that if I can get an object for the same price as a file, why not? The trend, I suspect, will ultimately revert back in favor of the electronic. I love books, and consume 60 or more per year. And they will have to yank my Kindle out of my dead, cold hands. I do, however, have an intellectual commitment to diversity. And that is why I believe that Foer’s book deserves to be read and discussed. One benefit, moreover, of his being an “old school” journalist, as some will certainly refer to him, is that the book is meticulously researched and any reader is sure to learn things about the history of journalism – and algorithms – that they didn’t know before. I know I did. This book was very much worth my investment and my time.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Reid

    It is difficult to overstate the timeliness of this extraordinary book. Though written with a minimum of hyperbole, Foer outlines in great detail the threat posed by the big tech companies and their addiction to and hegemony over Big Data, the mass of information they are constantly collecting and updating on each of us and on everything that goes on in the world. True visionaries, the founders of Google, Amazon, and Facebook are unequivocal in preaching the doctrine of the power and glory of wh It is difficult to overstate the timeliness of this extraordinary book. Though written with a minimum of hyperbole, Foer outlines in great detail the threat posed by the big tech companies and their addiction to and hegemony over Big Data, the mass of information they are constantly collecting and updating on each of us and on everything that goes on in the world. True visionaries, the founders of Google, Amazon, and Facebook are unequivocal in preaching the doctrine of the power and glory of what can be provided to us if we are willing to allow them to carry out their schemes. Sadly, as we are beginning to discover to our chagrin, what we have sacrificed for the sake of convenience is enormous: our privacy, professional journalism, balanced media, vibrant publishing houses, control over data, information, and even our political and civil society. Foer convincingly makes the case that there is very little difference between the monopolists of old—the oil barons, the steel conglomerates, the early technological companies—and our current crop. Just because they have a vision of the future is no reason for us to abdicate control over so much of our society to a small group of (mostly white male) autocrats. What they conceive may seem to be benign and they themselves may be entirely sincere, but we are heading into territory where their hegemony and utopian fantasies threaten our autonomy as human beings and as societies. As much as Mark Zuckerberg wants us to believe that he recognizes the worldwide political dangers inherent in his platform and intends to address them, the mere fact that such an enormous responsibility is falling to any individual or any corporation should be extremely frightening to us. The same is true of each of the others in the realms of knowledge (Google) and commerce (Amazon). Foer's solution is a simple one: apply the already existing laws against the formation of such all-powerful institutions to Facebook, Google, and Amazon. Recognize that for our own safety and the sake of a reasonably competitive marketplace, their power must be reigned in. The antitrust laws would not even need to be rewritten in the least, simply enforced. An act of will is required to tear ourselves from the alluring, mesmerizing power of these institutions and insist on having some control over their overreach. The time is now, and Foer gives us a blueprint for where to start.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jim Rossi

    This book provides useful history in many ways, but suffers because the author won't critically examine his own partisanship and Establishment upbringing, which shapes the book's analysis. He blames Big Tech for "eroding the the integrity of institutions - media, publishing - that supply the intellectual material that provokes thought and guides democracy." From my experience, these institutions have lacked integrity for a long time: Big Tech has revealed and exacerbated it. And do they really p This book provides useful history in many ways, but suffers because the author won't critically examine his own partisanship and Establishment upbringing, which shapes the book's analysis. He blames Big Tech for "eroding the the integrity of institutions - media, publishing - that supply the intellectual material that provokes thought and guides democracy." From my experience, these institutions have lacked integrity for a long time: Big Tech has revealed and exacerbated it. And do they really provide the intellectual material that provokes thought and guide democracy - or do they actually stifle those innovative thoughts, coming from regular people, and instead is that "guiding" really trying to impose their views on others - a soft authoritarianism? Is Big Tech any worse than that? I'd say in many ways it's much better - empowering - but it's also got a Frankenstein quality that's at times overshadowed all, COMBINED with Establishment mass media, that poses an existential threat to civil society. I've read Tristan Harris and Adam Alter and recommend them for the technological aspects of Big Tech and mobile. I recommend Bruce Schneier, Marc Goodman, and McDonough's "Cyber Smart" for the privacy and crime issues. For how social networks work, see Granovetter's "Strength of 'Weak' Ties" and Clay Shirky's "Here Comes Everybody." For the marketing and customer service issues, see Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, "Extreme Honesty." For philosophy and technology, see Nassim Taleb. I feel like "World Without Mind" is what people get if they rely on the New Yorker, New York Times, and other elite institutions, combined with mobile.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Angie Boyter

    In the Prologue to this book, the author tells us he spent most of his career at the New Republic. When Chris Hughes, who happens to have been Mark Zuckerberg's college roommate, bought the paper, he made Foer editor and tasked him to remake the magazine into a modern publication, befitting the new millennium. He fired Foer 2 1/2 years later when the magazine could not meet Hughes' expectations. Foer says he hopes that this book "doesn't come across as fueled by anger." So far he has NOT lived u In the Prologue to this book, the author tells us he spent most of his career at the New Republic. When Chris Hughes, who happens to have been Mark Zuckerberg's college roommate, bought the paper, he made Foer editor and tasked him to remake the magazine into a modern publication, befitting the new millennium. He fired Foer 2 1/2 years later when the magazine could not meet Hughes' expectations. Foer says he hopes that this book "doesn't come across as fueled by anger." So far he has NOT lived up to his hopes. I may not last for the duration, especially in the face of a writing style that could be a little less informal and a bit better organized. One common annoyance is that when he is talking about history of tech he is not careful to identify the year or period he is talking about. Sometimes he mentions it in passing well into the discussion or leaves the reader to guess from mention of certain events. Sometimes I never was sure. This is important. For example, if a young person has a personal computer it makes a difference if it is the 1970s, the early 1980s, or the late 80s. One is extraordinary; one is VERY advanced; one is so-so. OK, I gave up. When I find myself so annoyed by the style that it interferes with my ability to absorb what the author is saying it is time to move on. The writing is just plain sloppy. I found too many instances like when he says that the great sociologist Thorstein Veblen wrote a book making the case for putting engineers into power and uses this to discuss the rise of Herbert Hoover and the increasing importance of engineers as the 20th century progressed. Sounds interesting, but in neither the book nor the endnotes is the Veblen book identified!! (The endnotes are another source of annoyance. I discovered them late. Why? Because there are no footnote numbers or other references to them in the text. A reader has to guess that this might be something for which the author might cite the source and go to the notes, where references are found by page number. ) I am surprised and disappointed that the publisher put the book out for sale in this condition.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Vince

    3.5 stars. An engagingly written and thoughtful examination of how American tech giants (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple) have gained near monopolies on the accumulation of personal data, the size and scope of which has enabled them to control much of the information we receive and the media we read. This mass of data fed though complex algorithms allows them to exercise their power to control the hierarchy of search results, structure our News Feeds, and stuff us with "recommendations" on what 3.5 stars. An engagingly written and thoughtful examination of how American tech giants (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple) have gained near monopolies on the accumulation of personal data, the size and scope of which has enabled them to control much of the information we receive and the media we read. This mass of data fed though complex algorithms allows them to exercise their power to control the hierarchy of search results, structure our News Feeds, and stuff us with "recommendations" on what to like, what to buy, and what to think. While we intuitively know much of this already, the history (especially as it relates to the demise of print media and objective journalism) and insidiousness of big tech is nonetheless fascinating reading. World Without Mind works well as an overview of the dark side of big tech but left me wanting a deeper look into their machinations and long-term objectives. Like most polemics, there is also a dearth of solutions offered to tech's threats to individuality, freedom, and privacy. These quibbles aside, it is still a book well worth reading, particularly as a jumping off point to more detailed investigations into the subject.

  13. 5 out of 5

    David

    This is an important book, as it clearly describes some of the dangers of big tech (aka GAFA: Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple). Even if I had not liked the rest of the book, when I got to the end and the author made the argument for reading on paper, I would have loved it. But the book is way more than a plea for paper books, and you should check it out (I checked it out from the library, in fact). This author knows what he's talking about, and whether you agree with him on every point or not, t This is an important book, as it clearly describes some of the dangers of big tech (aka GAFA: Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple). Even if I had not liked the rest of the book, when I got to the end and the author made the argument for reading on paper, I would have loved it. But the book is way more than a plea for paper books, and you should check it out (I checked it out from the library, in fact). This author knows what he's talking about, and whether you agree with him on every point or not, the overall arguments of the book are believable, worrying, and important. So get your hands on a copy and read it, please. Now back to my preference for paper: I was delighted to read that the author and I were not the only ones to have a kindle and iPad and decide to go back to paper books. He says it's a general trend, and I'm glad, even if it does mean we have a bunch of old e-waste gathering dust around the house.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kay (aka) Miss Bates

    Yes, it's a polemic and yes, I did enjoy reading it very much. I think Foer's most interesting and important point is his stand on the professionalization of writing and its subsequent erosion/decline. As a blogger-reviewer, I cringe, but I see his point. He argues that, with journalism and publishing and most imptantly, copywright laws, writers could finally make a living (he should talk to some romance writers ... *grim look*), set standards, etc., professional reviewers and critics could do s Yes, it's a polemic and yes, I did enjoy reading it very much. I think Foer's most interesting and important point is his stand on the professionalization of writing and its subsequent erosion/decline. As a blogger-reviewer, I cringe, but I see his point. He argues that, with journalism and publishing and most imptantly, copywright laws, writers could finally make a living (he should talk to some romance writers ... *grim look*), set standards, etc., professional reviewers and critics could do so in turn. Other than that, he also makes a great argument for the evils of Google, FB, and Amazon, pretty spot-on, about their invasive, unethical practices and monopolizing, another pernicious effect, argues Foer, of the "age of information" ... especially b/c that information is curated and determined by powers beyond our own intellectual choices. His solution? um, pretty low-key ... I mean no one's putting up barricades and protesting or anything ... and simple, read paper books. Put that Kindle away. But he couples this with, well, being on screen is inevitable and he himself spends most of his day on it. But for leisure time, read paper books. How convincing is that?

  15. 5 out of 5

    Dillon

    This book was okay. He made some good points, but I think maybe overzealously and by over-simplifying. What follows is strictly representative of my own opinions of his work and are in no way indicative of the opinions of my employer, which, you’ll see below may or may not be relevant. First, he had some interesting things to say about the problem of information and the fact that Google and Facebook have become our gateway to information. The trouble with abundance of information is the abundance This book was okay. He made some good points, but I think maybe overzealously and by over-simplifying. What follows is strictly representative of my own opinions of his work and are in no way indicative of the opinions of my employer, which, you’ll see below may or may not be relevant. First, he had some interesting things to say about the problem of information and the fact that Google and Facebook have become our gateway to information. The trouble with abundance of information is the abundance of crud that comes with it. When all information is 1. Free and 2. Curated by gatekeepers, it becomes difficult for your average consumer of words to discern between spending time consuming high vs low quality, and more importantly, the true vs the false. This was a good point - we did not know until recently what tech hath wrought in this sphere of life until recently. I do think he goes too far though when he basically ascribes malicious intent to the two aforementioned companies with respect to the information of information dissemination. Foer also describes the difficulty of publishing high quality content on a web that runs itself basically off of ads. He describes the pressure he felt at New Republic to fund high-brow content with basically clickbait to increase ad revenue. I get that too - it’s too bad. I hadn’t really thought much of it before, but it makes sense that so much junk gets produced because the ads model sets clickbait up to be successful. That’s too bad. He made a point also about Amazon and publishing - he says that Amazon has essentially become the gateway to getting work out there, simultaneously pressuring publishers to fit its demands while also lowering the industry-wide publishing bar via Amazon publishing. His view is that by making it easier to get published, the general quality of literature must needs be lowered, thereby contributing to the information deluge which Facebook and Google have enabled, only now in the old world of literature versus the new space of the web. Certain types of content should have a high bar for dissemination and there ought to be gatekeepers, says Foer. Then, in order to sift through the mass of information that we now have available to us, we are absolutely dependent on sites which give us recommendations and help us sort through what’s out there...which, if you’re reading this, you’re aware of at least one of them. To this, I’d say - it’s hard to argue that more abundance means more junk. But this isn’t a new problem - and I think his opinion is a good counterbalance, but it’s cynical. More abundance also means more gems, and good algorithms give us access to those gems. Oh and he also said that e-reading are becoming less popular, which...I think might be fake news? Or so I hear. I hope it’s not true. Ugh I don’t know who to believe - you see? I’ve lost my sense of what’s true. Ok so those were the main points I took out of his book. As I said, I think he oversimplifies throughout the book - but he’s not wrong about everything. I only wish he’d offered more solutions to the problems he elucidates. He did offer one, which was to make paying for information more the norm - a principle which I definitely see the merits of...but, I definitely read this book on loan from the public library, on my Kindle app on my phone. Overall, good food for thought. I’d recommend it to tech people, knowing that most people will have some reservations about the conclusions he draws, but it’s good to be more conscientious.

  16. 5 out of 5

    C. Hollis Crossman

    The first half of World Without Mind is nothing short of beautiful. Franklin Foer, whose gnomic visage leers from the back flap, takes us on a rapid tour of the origins of the Internet and its culture (essentially a miniaturization of Fred Turner's From Counterculture to Cyberculture) before revealing just how much the big tech companies want to take from us and how little compunction they have in doing so. It's a rewarding, if somewhat breathless, read. Even this early in the book, however, ther The first half of World Without Mind is nothing short of beautiful. Franklin Foer, whose gnomic visage leers from the back flap, takes us on a rapid tour of the origins of the Internet and its culture (essentially a miniaturization of Fred Turner's From Counterculture to Cyberculture) before revealing just how much the big tech companies want to take from us and how little compunction they have in doing so. It's a rewarding, if somewhat breathless, read. Even this early in the book, however, there's an odd omission. Foer spends a lot of time talking about and criticizing Facebook, Google (Alphabet), and Amazon. He spends almost no time talking about Apple, aside from a brief jab at Steve Jobs for his brilliant but devious bait-and-switch of the music industry. Until the end of chapter 4, this seems simply like an oversight. And then you get to chapter 5, "Keepers of the Big Gate in the Sky," and you realize why Apple is left out. It isn't because Foer has any particular fondness for the corporate tech behemoth (he doesn't express any, at least). It's because Apple hasn't threatened his career in the way Facebook, Google, and Amazon have done. The first four chapters are full of history, insight into how these giant corporations function and what their philosophical underpinnings are, and anecdotes from the lives of Page, Brin, Zuckerberg, and Bezos that show just how careless they are with basically everything. Jobs is no longer with us, which may have occasioned Foer's approach in part, but the more important fact is that Foer is a journalist and he perceives these companies to have waged an underhanded and ultimately devastating war against journalism. Which, of course, they have. But Foer dramatically undercuts his own arguments by overplaying his hand with doses of resentment and ire rendered unnecessary by the strength of his insight. He really does have an important message that we should all heed (hence three stars for this book instead of two), but he inserts so much animosity and hostility in the form of deeply personal arguments that his much better reasoned arguments lose their impact. For instance, Foer is adamant that, though these individuals may and often do abuse their power, society needs gatekeepers of information. Jeff Bezos, he rightfully points out, has declared war on gatekeepers, even while he has (wittingly or unwittingly) taken the mantle of Supreme Gatekeeper onto his own shoulders. What marked the old era of gatekeeping apart from this one, Foer asserts, is that the multiplicity of gatekeepers helped check and balance the dissemination of information and ensured that citizens could at least get a variety of viewpoints if they so desired, rather than being algorithmically locked into a personalized echo chamber. It's a fair point, except that Foer himself was an editorial gatekeeper for seven years at the New Republic, that paragon of louche Leftism, and one gets the palpable sense while reading his account of both his editorship and the evils of Amazon's war on gatekeepers that not a little of his criticism derives from his own sense of persecution. Unfortunately, he remains fixated on this point of gatekeeping for the remainder of the volume. He seems to channel Andrew Keen, whose deplorably elitist (if ironically cornball) The Cult of the Amateur predated World Without Mind by ten years. It turns a vibrant book into a bit of a yawner. Not that there's nothing good after chapter 4, it just seems a bit tainted. Foer has drunk the Kool-Aid of post-Enlightenment romanticism, and believes the Middle Ages were a blight into which we're slipping again despite the three-hundred-year oasis of Pure Reason. At one point he says that the problem with Medieval literature was that it was only able to "reflect and mimic" the world, rather than reshape it (which he implies is the true purpose of literature). The purpose of Medieval art and literature was actually to interpret the world, not mimic it; Foer's misunderstanding illustrates the need for this approach, and the danger of radical disconnection and perpetual originality which he touts. The overall warning of World Without Mind, that we are willingly handing over our free will and intellectual freedom for the sake of convenience, is important. There's a lot of good information here, along with careful reasoning and some genuinely astute insight. But these qualities are damaged by Foer's unmistakable tone of personal grievance. As a definite tech-agnostic, I can sympathize with Foer's perspective; as a lover of logic and careful argument, I find his presentation lacking.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Brian Meehl

    In recent news it has come to light that savvy social media users have been (since 2015) buying “followers” and retweets by the tens and/or hundreds of thousands (at a penny per follower). These faux followers and retweets, easily generated by bots, are the latest glimpse into the unregulated, unscrupulous, and Wild West world of Big Tech. Facebook and Twitter are denying such a misuse of their platforms. No surprise there as "followers" and "retweets" are a cryptocurrency in themselves. Like th In recent news it has come to light that savvy social media users have been (since 2015) buying “followers” and retweets by the tens and/or hundreds of thousands (at a penny per follower). These faux followers and retweets, easily generated by bots, are the latest glimpse into the unregulated, unscrupulous, and Wild West world of Big Tech. Facebook and Twitter are denying such a misuse of their platforms. No surprise there as "followers" and "retweets" are a cryptocurrency in themselves. Like the cattle barons of yore, it seems the lords of Silicon Valley are choosing profit over public interest. While the four tech giants - Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google - are known as FANG in the financial world -– in the world of social media and the digital mining of our lives, a more apt acronym might be FAAT – Facebook, Amazon, Alphabet (Google’s new name), Twitter. After all, it was Emile Zola, writing in the Gilded Age of the late 1800s, who coined the terms “fats” and “thins” to describe the 1% and 99% of that era. Franklin Foer’s eye-opening and unnerving book, WORLD WITHOUT MIND, is a perfect introduction to our age of Big Tech, how FAAT is having less-than beneficial effects on our lives, and is threatening more damage in the future. As well as laying out a succinct history of Silicon Valley, Foer walks us through the irony of Big Tech and their branded self-image. Silicon Valley’s moguls see themselves as the newest incarnations of American rugged individualism: the alienated geek in a garage building tech’s latest golden goose. In truth, Big Tech’s rapacious appetite for tracking us and, via algorithms, feeding us more and more of what we “like,” is spreading a pandemic of the exact opposite of rugged individualism: flaccid conformity. Foer artfully raises the parallel of how the food industry of the mid-20th century transformed the way we ate (too ill effect), to how Big Tech is transforming the way we process (and are processed by) information. While the jury may still be out on Big Tech, Foer argues that our bargain with it is a Faustian one riddled with side effects. In 2016, we certainly witnessed the dark side of Facebook’s dream of connecting us all in global harmony. A very rugged individualist by the name of Vladimir Putin showed us how Zuckerberg’s dewy-eyed connectivity dream can be corrupted with lies and deception via the Dark Web. Which is one of Foer’s major points: Big Tech, like our vast grid of public utilities, needs major oversight and regulation, not unlike the standards and laws that govern and regulate our print and broadcast media. Information has become infrastructure as vulnerable to attack as a power plant. Foer’s WORLD WITHOUT MIND is a riveting cautionary tale about Big Tech, social media and our unwitting collaboration with it. I would add one more example to a list of cautionary tales that began with Icarus flying too close to the sun. Alberto Santos-Dumont was a Brazilian aviation pioneer who moved to France in the 1890s. Along with the Wright brothers, Santos-Dumont was a major player in the invention of fixed-wing aircraft. He believed airplanes would be the technology that, by bringing humans closer and connecting the world (sound familiar?), would create world peace. But Santos-Dumont soon saw his biplanes weaponized for use in World War I. His dream of connectivity crashed and burned. Santos-Dumont died a bitter man, convinced that the new technology he had invented had done more harm than good. Perhaps the FAATs of the world (Facebook, Amazon, Alphabet, Twitter, etc.) might want to read WORLD WITHOUT MIND before they, like Icarus and Alberto Santos-Dumont, fly too close to the sun.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Murtaza

    The proliferation of information on social media combined with the massive amounts of data being raked in by tech companies every day is eroding democracy, as well as the refined culture represented by traditional journalism and writing. Reflecting on the popular sentiment that "data is the new oil," in this book Foer describes how hegemonic companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple have obtained a massive and largely unregulated ability to control the minutiae of our lives and thoughts, The proliferation of information on social media combined with the massive amounts of data being raked in by tech companies every day is eroding democracy, as well as the refined culture represented by traditional journalism and writing. Reflecting on the popular sentiment that "data is the new oil," in this book Foer describes how hegemonic companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple have obtained a massive and largely unregulated ability to control the minutiae of our lives and thoughts, by gathering enough information to paint an accurate psychological profile of any internet user. This data goldmine coupled with the devaluation of the economic value of knowledge by the internet is quickly leading us towards a world where high culture is a thing of the past, while individual people are on the way to becoming automatons who can be manipulated by unaccountable, monopolistic companies based in Silicon Valley, wielding powerful algorithms. This is the "World Without Mind" that the title alludes to. Foer argues that ordinary people must find a way to resist this pull towards domination, suggesting the example of the healthy food movement as an analogue. Decades ago people were enthralled with the first generation of packaged, frozen foods, before eventually realizing the harm this was causing both themselves and the environment. People thus made a conscious decision to make better food choices, even if the price was higher, because they valued their health. Likewise, people can and should pay for legitimate journalism and writing, and magazines and newspapers should encourage them to do so instead of racing to appeal to the lowest common denominator of clickbait. By building subscriber based audiences they can protect the integrity of their craft while encouraging people to develop their higher faculties, rather than gorging on the free information junk food found on Facebook for instance. Foer also calls on the government to get involved by regulating data collection and manipulation, while potentially breaking up or restricting the internet monopolies, which have been granted a level of hegemonic power we'd never tolerate in other industries. The uncharitable way to look at this book would be as a gripe held by an old elite, New York media people, against a new elite, Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs. While the book kind of started out that way, reflecting on the catastrophic takeover of the liberal New Republic magazine by a Facebook founder, it ended up offering some constructive suggestions on how to push back against the devaluation of knowledge being wrought by tech companies. It is also quite well-written, which Foer seemed to make an effort to do in order to remind readers of the value of his craft.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Wendy Liu

    His diagnosis of the problems posted by the tech giants is pretty good, but his solutions (which were, as far as I could tell, Baker-style dispersal of ownership and stronger IP law) are depressingly weak. He doesn't even touch on why state-enforced dispersal might not be feasible in today's world, both in terms of the current weakness of regulatory bodies (the FCC has lately been relaxing regulations, not strengthening them) and in terms of the business models of these corporations that allowed His diagnosis of the problems posted by the tech giants is pretty good, but his solutions (which were, as far as I could tell, Baker-style dispersal of ownership and stronger IP law) are depressingly weak. He doesn't even touch on why state-enforced dispersal might not be feasible in today's world, both in terms of the current weakness of regulatory bodies (the FCC has lately been relaxing regulations, not strengthening them) and in terms of the business models of these corporations that allowed them to scale so quickly (network effects and cross-subsidisation). The threat of political capture isn't mentioned at all. I also found his pro-IP stance to be depressingly short-sighted---he's right that Lessig-style calls for weakened intellectual property rights can be misused by profit-seeking corporations, but that's an argument against corporations, not against a larger commons. If anything, stronger IP laws are better for large corporations, because the whole point of intellectual property rights is that they can be bought, and thus what he's arguing for would only benefit those with higher buying power in the long run. On the other hand, I'm quite biased on this topic. I've lately come to the realisation that we can't fix the problems caused by tech without drastically reforming the whole economic system---that they're merely a symptom of a much larger problem---so everything I read on the topic that doesn't share that view feels insufficiently radical. So feel free to take my thoughts on this book with that caveat in mind. (On the other hand, I haven't yet found anything to convince me that I'm wrong ...)

  20. 5 out of 5

    Dan Graser

    "When we read words on paper, we're removed from the notifications, pings, and other urgencies summoning us away from our thoughts. The page permits us, for a time in our day, to decouple from the machine, to tend to our human core." This fantastic quote should have formed the organizing telos of this work. However, Franklin Foer does not deliver on the title or subtitle of this work. There is a good amount of time wasted on telling you things you likely already know about the founders themselves "When we read words on paper, we're removed from the notifications, pings, and other urgencies summoning us away from our thoughts. The page permits us, for a time in our day, to decouple from the machine, to tend to our human core." This fantastic quote should have formed the organizing telos of this work. However, Franklin Foer does not deliver on the title or subtitle of this work. There is a good amount of time wasted on telling you things you likely already know about the founders themselves and the corporate practices of Facebook, Amazon, and others. Also, what starts as a promising examination of the actual motives behind the myriad of devices and apps foisted on the public under the guise of, "efficiency," and, "convenience," descends into less focused griping about the big tech industry. So, why rate this four stars? Answer: Purely for the venting Foer unleashes as to the effect of social media and the digital world on genuinely well-intentioned and truth-based journalism. You can tell this is personal (read his bio to understand why); his criticisms are right-on and his precision is laser-perfect. That portion (the last third) of the book makes the entire thing worthwhile and generates some of his most perspicacious commentary. The quote that began my review as to the importance of actual books in an age of digital readers is a result of this section. Not what it promises to be, but what it becomes is worth reading and at about 250 pages won't take you too long.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ivy Reisner

    He lost his job for not being able to cope with the changes technology has brought to his industry, so rather than learn how to manage and capitalize on those changes, he wrote a book-length tirade. Where he talks about technology, he's either misleading or flat out wrong. I don't disagree with whomever determined he was not technically savvy as the situation has not improved. He wants a combination of two things. One, he wants the government to come in and regulate search engines and advertising He lost his job for not being able to cope with the changes technology has brought to his industry, so rather than learn how to manage and capitalize on those changes, he wrote a book-length tirade. Where he talks about technology, he's either misleading or flat out wrong. I don't disagree with whomever determined he was not technically savvy as the situation has not improved. He wants a combination of two things. One, he wants the government to come in and regulate search engines and advertising. I think, perhaps, he'd like it if the government forced advertisers to spend more on magazines than they did on online media. He wants the "bad monopoly" of only a few large tech companies competing with each other to be broken up because that's a danger to the Big 6 book publishing companies (I think he sees that as a good, or at least neutral monopoly.) He wants us to all give up ebooks, because that will stick it to...Google? Google doesn't sell books, at least not as their primary business. Amazon? Amazon sells print books. It'll stick it to someone. I will point out this book is available on Kindle, Nook, and Kobo. To be fair, he raises some good points on tech companies using overseas tax shelters, but I would not restrict that to tech companies. Burger King, hardly a digital empire, has done the same. His concern about propaganda, while legitimate, feels tacked on and is ill explored. This book in summary, "Tech is bad, because Steve Jobs likes a book sold by a hippie who never lived on a commune and Page's dad talked about AI at the dinner table so get off my lawn."

  22. 5 out of 5

    Evangel

    The big 4 - GAFA...never heard of them? Yes you have. Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple. Our lives are an open book these days thanks to social media, and though, there are 'known' privacy issues, I think we all assume these organizations have society's best at heart and really just want to make the world smaller, more connected, maybe friendlier? Not so much. This author, who has worked in the publishing industry as both an editor and writer, gives an inside look at the much more sinister ideals The big 4 - GAFA...never heard of them? Yes you have. Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple. Our lives are an open book these days thanks to social media, and though, there are 'known' privacy issues, I think we all assume these organizations have society's best at heart and really just want to make the world smaller, more connected, maybe friendlier? Not so much. This author, who has worked in the publishing industry as both an editor and writer, gives an inside look at the much more sinister ideals upheld in the lofty ivory towers of tech & media. Privacy? pshaw...Copyright laws? nah...Anti-trust provisions? Who needs em... If you've had some nagging concerns about the amalgamation of our communication, commerce, and culture - you're on the right track. There seems to be a grassroots backlash with the 'shop local, eat local', or 'Small-business Saturday', and honestly I've made half-hearted efforts to be on board. But after reading this book, I think about the days of catalogs in the mailbox that I can peruse in private, when google search items wouldn't strangely appear in my facebook feed - making me think big brother knows everything my kids want for Christmas, or which sandals I'm thinking about for my upcoming vacation. I definitely think twice about buying from Amazon, and I have minimized my google searches - and, after reading this book, though I'm not a conspiracy theorist, I know that the big 4 have a larger sprawl, and farther grasp than I could have imagined. Be informed folks!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jordan

    We sometimes discuss the impact which technology and social media have on the behavior of individuals and their interactions; but we don't always consider how they impact our consumerism, democracy or society. Foer highlights the reality that Big Tech companies exist as monopolies which use their invasive data collection for unfair market advantages while also pushing their own anthropologies and social agendas. The ways in which these forces are changing journalism and book publishing was parti We sometimes discuss the impact which technology and social media have on the behavior of individuals and their interactions; but we don't always consider how they impact our consumerism, democracy or society. Foer highlights the reality that Big Tech companies exist as monopolies which use their invasive data collection for unfair market advantages while also pushing their own anthropologies and social agendas. The ways in which these forces are changing journalism and book publishing was particularly enlightening given how they shape our minds and democracy. Will we be as conscious for our health and the health of society in regard to the tech/media we consume as we have become about the food we eat after decades of processed food's reign? Will it take the same unavoidable and blatant evidence of disease to get us there?

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mack Hayden

    Really enjoyed this one. Foer does a great job of highlighting the pitfalls and hidden danger's of the tech companies' encroachments on every aspect of daily life without coming across as needlessly alarmist. His points here are salient and, while he certainly seems to have an ax to grind, he's pretty open about that fact. He doesn't just slam Apple, Facebook, Google, and (especially) Amazon in a general, philosophical sense (although, he certainly does provide more of a legitimate ethical and e Really enjoyed this one. Foer does a great job of highlighting the pitfalls and hidden danger's of the tech companies' encroachments on every aspect of daily life without coming across as needlessly alarmist. His points here are salient and, while he certainly seems to have an ax to grind, he's pretty open about that fact. He doesn't just slam Apple, Facebook, Google, and (especially) Amazon in a general, philosophical sense (although, he certainly does provide more of a legitimate ethical and epistemological basis for his argument than the average journalist)—he illustrates their malfeasance and attempts to mislead pretty thoroughly with factual, historical examples of their companies' practices and statements. This is an illuminating look into how important it is to question the motivations and ambitions of any given shibboleths, even the shiniest and newest ones.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    Informative without being overwhelming, scary without fearmongering, this book talks about stuff we should all be thinking about. Nothing about Facebook would surprise me anymore, but I was pretty disturbed by the back stories on Google and Amazon and their corporate goals. World without mind indeed. Unless I missed something, though, discussion of Apple was conspicuously absent from this book - how bad is it in comparison? If I'm to try and dislodge the tendrils Google's got into all aspects of Informative without being overwhelming, scary without fearmongering, this book talks about stuff we should all be thinking about. Nothing about Facebook would surprise me anymore, but I was pretty disturbed by the back stories on Google and Amazon and their corporate goals. World without mind indeed. Unless I missed something, though, discussion of Apple was conspicuously absent from this book - how bad is it in comparison? If I'm to try and dislodge the tendrils Google's got into all aspects of my internet use, is there a less insidious alternative? I want a follow-up about what we're supposed to do about the situation we've gotten ourselves into, an expansion on the last few chapters.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Stathopulos

    I went into this book with two concerns: the first that the author's quitting/firing from New Republic would influence his perspective to the degree that an objective pov would be difficult; and secondly that if that wasn't a problem, this book might just another cliche ridden volume on the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it. Happy to report that my fears were unfounded on both points. He deals with his time at New Republic right up front, even admitting some bias might seep through his writing - th I went into this book with two concerns: the first that the author's quitting/firing from New Republic would influence his perspective to the degree that an objective pov would be difficult; and secondly that if that wasn't a problem, this book might just another cliche ridden volume on the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it. Happy to report that my fears were unfounded on both points. He deals with his time at New Republic right up front, even admitting some bias might seep through his writing - though I was hard pressed to see where his bias outshone the facts. As for cliches, this was a straight up telling by a person who understands the threats that lie before us, appreciates the advantages of technology, and at the same time yearns for a time when we weren't spoon fed our likes, dislikes, interests and passions by algorithms. He discusses how America since the time of Ben Franklin has been riding two revolutions- technology and privacy, and that we will soon reach a crossroads that we will only be able to pass by "damaging one to save the other." In the author's words, "This is a book about the world of ideas and about what happens when we no longer properly value that world." He writes eloquently and passionately, bringing light, color and words to the fears that should live in the back of all our minds.

  27. 4 out of 5

    D.C. Lozar

    I am an enormous fan of those who have the guts and fortitude to stand up for what they believe in and to call out injustices. Franklin Foer does this in his book, "World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech," in such a smooth and personal way that the reader is fully engaged and entertained even as we delve into deep ethical issues of privacy, autonomy, and the destruction of intellectual property. The audiobook was beautifully narrated and very informative. I would recommend this b I am an enormous fan of those who have the guts and fortitude to stand up for what they believe in and to call out injustices. Franklin Foer does this in his book, "World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech," in such a smooth and personal way that the reader is fully engaged and entertained even as we delve into deep ethical issues of privacy, autonomy, and the destruction of intellectual property. The audiobook was beautifully narrated and very informative. I would recommend this book to anyone who feels big business has overstepped its bonds in the name of profit. Well done.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Clare

    Not a perfect book (uneven tone, at times, churlish) but poses big, important questions about democracy, privacy, and the slippery efficiency of the new technology. While Foer was certainly trying to make a point, the book is really a polemic, it is a bit unbalanced in that he doesn’t describe the meaning-making that tech users bring to their use of tech. While there is a lot of dumb, mindless stuff online, there is also meaning, wonder, and delight. It seems that this side needs to be considere Not a perfect book (uneven tone, at times, churlish) but poses big, important questions about democracy, privacy, and the slippery efficiency of the new technology. While Foer was certainly trying to make a point, the book is really a polemic, it is a bit unbalanced in that he doesn’t describe the meaning-making that tech users bring to their use of tech. While there is a lot of dumb, mindless stuff online, there is also meaning, wonder, and delight. It seems that this side needs to be considered as well. People don’t use tech only because they are manipulated by the big tech companies, but because they _want_ to (for many reasons). These psycho-social needs drive use, including excessive use, and counter-productive use.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    Foer's book is meant to be a sharp critique of Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google, and the largely negative affect that these companies have had on democracy and the public. Unfortunately, Foer's broadside against big tech quickly devolves into flailing as the book's analysis is too scattered, too shallow, and Foer is too fond of sweeping, emotion-filled and data-free statements to be effective. It becomes clear early on that Foer is unconcerned with presenting an honest argument, and that the b Foer's book is meant to be a sharp critique of Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google, and the largely negative affect that these companies have had on democracy and the public. Unfortunately, Foer's broadside against big tech quickly devolves into flailing as the book's analysis is too scattered, too shallow, and Foer is too fond of sweeping, emotion-filled and data-free statements to be effective. It becomes clear early on that Foer is unconcerned with presenting an honest argument, and that the book is motivated mainly by personal grievance. The chapters in part 1 generally follow a pattern of: potted biography of some famous figure, sandwiched between lofty statements that are abruptly dropped into the text. Some of these statements are so free of supporting arguments that they're basically non sequiturs. The effect is almost comical in some places. Here's an example of statements that precedes a (very) short history of Larry Page, one of the co-founders of Google: "Google stands to transform life on the planet, precisely as it boasted it would. The laws of man are a mere nuisance that can only slow down such work. Institutions and traditions are rusty scrap for the heap. The company rushes forward, with little regard for what it tramples, on its way toward the New Jerusalem." The above is compelling, but it's taken from a paragraph about how Google's master plan is to try and replicate the human brain, and it's followed by the aforementioned Larry Page bio that suggests none of that. Later in the same chapter, Foer describes Google's book scanning project in the following terms: "In other words, Google had plotted an intellectual heist of historic proportions." The above quote is at least supported by the text, but it highlights other problems: Foer's use of hyperbole and a tendency to omit facts that hurt his narrative. While it's true that Google was scanning every book it could get its hands on, and was providing small snippets of text that linked to Amazon and other book retailers for books that were still for sale and not in the public domain, it's not true that this was copyright infringement or a "heist of historic proportions" as Foer styles it. Conspicuously omitted is the fact that, in 2015, an American appeals court found that Google had committed no copyright infringement. Amusingly, Foer later describes an ad campaign of Apple's that promoted the fact that people could rip their iTunes music to CDs as promoting bootlegging. That's right, in Foer's view, it's bootlegging to convert music you bought to a different format. Statements like this make clear both Foer's view of copyright, and his total lack of understanding about copyright law. He later describes the history of copyright law that only serves to confirm how little he knows about it. This tendency to play fast and loose with words and facts is most clearly highlighted when Foer refers to the tech companies as "monopolies", which he does throughout. They're not actually monopolies, which Foer admits in one of the book's few (only?) footnotes. He uses that word rather than something more precise because he knows it carries a lot of emotional baggage that some readers will respond to on a visceral level. This just comes off as cheap and manipulative. Unfortunately, Part 1 is actually the best part of the book because it follows a loose kind of structure, and the biographies, short though they are, are where the book is at its most interesting. Part 2 is where things rally go off the rails. Here Foer describes his time as editor of the newspaper New Republic, and his own firing as a result of not being able to produce sufficiently click-baity articles. The New Republic had a small readership, generated a profit only once and was particularly ill-prepared for the Internet. While it's unfortunate what happened to him, it's not that interesting and certainly not worthy of more pages of text than the other biographies in the book. The description of his New Republic experience only serves to suggest that the motivation for the book was to get back at those companies that Foer most closely associates with the Internet. One benefit of Foer's personal biography though is that it leads to my favourite part of the book, a part that had me issue a snort so loud my dogs started barking because they thought a car had pulled into the driveway. At the beginning of chapter 7, Foer writes: "Journalists have an annoying tendency to insert themselves in the center of the narrative. They assume that their problems are the world's problem, that their conversations with a taxi driver reflect the totality of human experience..." I feel like the back cover would've been much more accurate if the above quote had been the totality of the description. I had to read that quote a few times, as well as the pages before and after it, to confirm that this wasn't an attempt at self-parody (spoiler: it's not). The rest of Part 2 meanders around different subjects, and finally limps to a tepid conclusion (buy more physical books). Overall, it's hard to see how this book could be convincing to anyone that doesn't already share Foer's opinion on big tech and the Internet. This is too bad as the topic is an interesting one, but it needs to be handled by someone less close to the subject and with a fuller set of analytical tools.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jim Elyot

    Foer tells a compelling story of how journalism, authorship, and good writing in general are being quickly pushed aside in the name of convenience and cheapness. I challenge you to read this and not feel at least a little queasy, as to how much Facebook, Amazon, and Google know about us; about you.

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