World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech

Franklin Foer. Penguin Press, $27 (250p) ISBN 978-1-101-98111-5
Former New Republic editor Foer (How Soccer Explains the World) constructs a scathing critique of tech culture and breaks down the collective history and impact of giant corporations such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google. Silicon Valley companies “have eroded the integrity of institutions—media, publishing—that supply the intellectual material that provokes thought and guides democracy,” Foer states in his introduction, already showing a pointed antipathy toward his subject. He traces the origins of big tech monopolies back to the 1960s and specifically to the “crown prince of hippiedom,” Stewart Brand, who spread the vision of a “world healed by technology, brought together into a peaceful model of collaboration” with his publication of The Whole Earth Catalog (once described by Steve Jobs as “the bible” of his generation). Foer argues that Brand's vision is the basis for Silicon Valley's corporate culture, where monopoly is seen as part of the natural order (it is telling that startups no longer aspire to displace giants such as Facebook or Google but rather to be acquired by them). The result is of extraordinary detriment to American culture, writes Foer, who blames the collapsing value of knowledge, on the absent-minded entrepreneurs leading Amazon, Facebook, and Google. He goes on to argue that Google’s evolving mission statement as “a company with ever-expanding boundaries,” Facebook’s focus on increasingly complex algorithms, and Amazon’s growing stranglehold on commerce have played a role in “the catastrophic collapse of the news business and the degradation of American civic culture.” Foer is neither subtle nor impartial (he notes early on his falling out with Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes, who bought the New Republic in 2012), and this is more a call to arms than a wake-up call. It’s a rousing—though oversimplified—spin on the Silicon Valley origin story and the cultural impact of technology. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/24/2017
Release date: 09/12/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 978-1-101-98113-9
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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