The Internet Is Not The Answer by Andrew Keen, book review: A skilful reading of the runes

A punchy manifesto on the future and integrity of the internet age

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The Independent Culture

The Internet Is Not The Answer is a punchy manifesto about the future and integrity of the internet age. Keen focuses on the greed and inequity lying in plain sight in Silicon Valley and beyond. He guides us through the history and excesses of the net, from its arrival in 1991, through the birth of Instagram in 2010 and onwards, to the spectre of privacy concerns and “big data” that loom over us today.

Twenty-four years after the arrival of the internet, the place we inhabit is a connected entity; by 2018 60 per cent of the world looks set to be online. In 2011 the United Nations deemed the denial of access to the internet a violation of human rights; shortly after Syria blacked its out.

So what of its more nefarious aspects? Modern society might espouse the notion of liberal values when referring to the internet – the idea of nodes connecting, becoming a free-for-all untameable beast where any do-gooder or do-badder can do what they want.

 

There’s also a kind of laissez-faire, two fingers to government and big corporations attitude. But there is also a darker edge to the world of instant “presentism”. If anything 2014 showed us that an ever-connected world still retains the evils of the old, just in new, instantly accessible ways.

The book is dazzling in its scope. Take for example the idea that the race between computers and people will be a defining one – that Google’s interest in both the Uber taxi app and self-driving cars looks to provide a future where the current concerns over taxi-driver wages and cabbies being kicked out of their black cars are but a distant memory.

What if you could click a button and a self-driving vehicle turned up instead of a driver, thus reducing prices all round and, ideally, in a speaking network of cars, resulted in reduced accidents on the road? By 2020 Keen predicts that there will be 50 billion connected devices, the so-called “internet of things” as products talk to each other.

In this electronic world of little regulation, a technological behemoth dominated by companies that seem to monopolise this new “internet economy”, how do we make sure it doesn’t run away with itself and become a hydra-like monstrosity?

Keen shows us how: through regulation at governmental levels and an attempt to adhere to net neutrality. This book is a must-read for anyone remotely concerned about their lives on the net. Which, let’s face it, is pretty much everyone reading this.

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