"Digital Vertigo provides an articulate, measured, contrarian voice against a sea of hype about social media. As an avowed technology optimist, I'm grateful for Keen who makes me stop and think before committing myself fully to the social revolution." Larry Downes, author of The Killer App
In Digital Vertigo, Andrew Keen presents today's social media revolution as the most wrenching cultural transformation since the Industrial Revolution. Fusing a fast-paced historical narrative with front-line stories from today's online networking revolution and critiques of "social" companies like Groupon, Zynga and LinkedIn, Keen argues that the social media transformation is weakening, disorienting and dividing us rather than establishing the dawn of a new egalitarian and communal age. The tragic paradox of life in the social media age, Keen says, is the incompatibility between our internet longings for community and friendship and our equally powerful desire for online individual freedom. By exposing the shallow core of social networks like Facebook, Andrew Keen shows us that the more electronically connected we become, the lonelier and less powerful we seem to be.
|Publisher:||St. Martin''s Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.66(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
ANDREW KEEN, author of The Cult of the Amateur, is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur whose writings on culture, media, and technology have appeared in The Weekly Standard, Fast Company, The San Francisco Chronicle, Listener, and Jazziz. He lives in Santa Rosa, California.
Read an Excerpt
How Today's Online Social Revolution is Dividing, Diminishing, and Disorienting Us
By Andrew Keen
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2012 Andrew Keen
All rights reserved.
A SIMPLE IDEA OF ARCHITECTURE
"Morals reformed — health preserved — industry invigorated instruction diffused — public burdens lightened — Economy seated, as it were, upon a rock — the gordian knot of the Poor-Laws are not cut, but untied — all by a simple idea in Architecture."
— JEREMY BENTHAM
If this was a picture, you'd have seen it before. History, you see, is repeating itself. With our new digital century comes a familiar problem from the industrial age. A social tyranny is once again encroaching upon individual liberty. Today, in the early twenty-first century, just as in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this social threat comes from a simple idea in architecture.
In 1787, at the dawn of the mass industrial age, Jeremy Bentham designed what he called a "simple idea in architecture" to improve the management of prisons, hospitals, schools and factories. Bentham's idea was, as the architectural historian Robin Evans noted, a "vividly imaginative" synthesis of architectural form with social purpose. Bentham, who amassed great personal wealth as a result of his social vision, wanted to change the world through this new architecture.
Bentham sketched out this vision of what Aldous Huxley described as a "plan for a totalitarian housing project" in a series of "open" letters written from the little Crimean town of Krichev, where he and his brother, Samuel, were instructing the regime of the enlightened Russian despot Catherine the Great about the building of efficient factories for its unruly population. In these public letters, Bentham imagined what he called this "Panopticon" or "Inspection-House" as a physical network, a circular building of small rooms, each transparent and fully connected, in which individuals could be watched over by an all-seeing inspector. This inspector is the utilitarian version of an omniscient god — always-on, all-knowing, with the serendipitous ability to look around corners and see through walls. As the French historian Michel Foucault observed, this Inspection House was "like so many cages, so many small theaters, in which each actor is alone, perfectly individualized and constantly visible."
The Panopticon's connective technology would bring us together by separating us, Bentham calculated. Transforming us into fully transparent exhibits would be good for both society and the individual, he adduced, because the more we imagined we were being watched, the more efficient and disciplined we would each become. Both the individual and the community would, therefore, benefit from this network of Auto-Icons. "Ideal perfection," the utilitarian figured, taking this supposedly social idea to its most chillingly anti-social conclusion, would require that everyone — from connected prisoners to connected workers to connected school children to connected citizens — could be inspected "every instant of time."
Rather than the abstract fantasy of an eccentric Englishman whose experience of life, you'll remember, was no more than that of a boy, Bentham's radically transparent Inspection-House had an enormous impact on new prison architecture in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The original Oxford jail where I had breakfasted with Reid Hoffman, for example, had been built by the prolific prison architect William Blackburn, "the father of the radial plan for prisons," who built more than a dozen semicircular jails on Benthamite principles. In Oxford, Blackburn had replaced the medieval "gaol" in the city's castle with a building designed to supervise prisoners' every movement and control their time down to the very minute.
But Bentham's simple idea of architecture "reformed" more than just prisons. It represented an augury of an industrial society intricately connected by an all-too-concrete network of railroads and telegraph lines. The mechanical age of the stream train, the large-scale factory, the industrial city, the nation-state, the motion picture camera and the mass market newspaper did indeed create the physical architecture to transform us into efficient individual exhibits — always, in theory, observable by government, employers, media and public opinion. In the industrial era of mass connectivity, factories, schools, prisons and, most ominously, entire political systems were built upon this crystalline technology of collective surveillance. The last two hundred years have indeed been the age of the great exhibition.
Yet nobody in the industrial era, apart from the odd exhibitionist like Bentham himself, actually wanted to become individual pictures in this collective exhibition. Indeed, the struggle to be let alone is the story of industrial man. As Georg Simmel, the turn-of-the-twentieth-century German sociologist and scholar of secrecy, recognized, "the deepest problems of modern life derive from the claim of the individual to preserve the autonomy and individuality of his existence in the face of overwhelming social forces, of historical heritage, of external culture, and of the technique of life." Thus the great critics of mass society — John Stuart Mill and Alexis de Tocqueville in the nineteenth and George Orwell, Franz Kafka and Michel Foucault in the twentieth century — have all tried to shield individual liberty from the omniscient gaze of the Inspection-House.
"Visibility," Foucault warned, "is a trap." Thus, from J. S. Mill's solitary free thinker in On Liberty to Joseph K in The Castle and The Trial to Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-four, the hero of the mass industrial age for these critics is the individual who tries to protect his invisibility, who takes pleasure in his own opacity, who turns his back on the camera, who — in the timeless words of Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis — just wants to be let alone by the technologies of the mass industrial age.
Our Age of Great Exhibitionism
Yet now, at the dusk of the industrial and the dawn of the digital epoch, Bentham's simple idea of architecture has returned. But history never repeats itself, not identically, at least. Today, as the Web evolves from a platform for impersonal data into an Internet of people, Bentham's industrial Inspection-House has reappeared with a chilling digital twist. What we once saw as a prison is now considered as a playground; what was considered pain is today viewed as pleasure.
The analog age of the great exhibition is now being replaced by the digital age of great exhibitionism.
Today's simple architecture is the Internet — that ever-expanding network of networks combining the worldwide Web of personal computers, the wireless world of handheld networked devices like my BlackBerry Bold and other "smart" social products such as connected televisions, gaming consoles and the "connected car" — in which around a quarter of the globe's population have already taken up residency. In contrast with the original brick and mortar Inspection-House, this rapidly expanding global network, with its two billion digitally interconnected souls and its more than five billion connected devices, can house an infinite number of rooms. This is a global Auto-Icon that, more than two centuries after Jeremy Bentham sketched out his Inspection-House, is finally realizing his utilitarian dream of allowing us to be perpetually observed.
This digital architecture — described by New York University social media scholar Clay Shirky as the "connective tissue of society" and by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the new "nervous system of the planet" — has been designed to transform us into exhibitionists, forever on show in our networked crystal palaces. And, today, in an age of radically transparent online communities like Twitter and Facebook, the social has become, in Shirky's words, the "default" setting on the Internet, transforming digital technology from being a tool of second life into an increasingly central part of real life.
But this is a version of real life that could have been choreographed by Jeremy Bentham. As WikiLeaks founder and self-appointed transparency tsar Julian Assange said, today's Internet is "the greatest spying machine the world has ever seen," with Facebook, he added, being "the world's most comprehensive database about people, their relationships, their names, their addresses, their locations, their communications with each other, and their relatives, all sitting within the United States, all accessible to US Intelligence."
But it's not just Facebook that is establishing this master database of the human race. As Clay Shirky notes, popular geo-location services such as foursquare, Facebook places, Google Latitude, Plancast and the Hotlist, which enable us to "effectively see through walls" and know the exact location of all our friends, are making society more "legible," thus allowing all of us to be read, in good Inspection-House fashion, "like a book." No wonder, then, that Katie Rolphe, a New York University colleague of Shirky, has observed that "Facebook is the novel we are all writing."
Social media is the confessional novel that we are not only all writing but also collectively publishing for everyone else to read. We are all becoming Wiki-leakers, less notorious but no less subversive versions of Julian Assange, of not only our own lives but other people's now. The old mass industrial celebrity culture has been so turned upside down by social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter that celebrity has been democratized and we are reinventing ourselves as self-styled celebrities, even going as far as to deploy online services like YouCeleb that enable us to dress like twentieth-century mass media stars.
There has, consequently, been a massive increase in what Shirky calls "self-produced" legibility, thereby making society as easy to read as an open book. As a society, we are, to borrow some words from Jeremy Bentham, becoming our own collective image. This contemporary mania with our own self-expression is what two leading American psychologists, Dr. Jean Twenge and Dr. Keith Campbell, have described as "the narcissism epidemic" — a self-promotional madness driven, these two psychologists say, by our need to continually manufacture our own fame to the world. The Silicon Valley–based psychiatrist, Dr. Elias Aboujaoude, whose 2011 book, Virtually You, charts the rise of what he calls "the self-absorbed online Narcissus," shares Twenge and Campbell's pessimism. The Internet, Dr. Aboujaoude notes, gives narcissists the opportunity to "fall in love with themselves all over again," thereby creating a online world of infinite "self-promotion" and "shallow web relationships."
Many other writers share Aboujaoude's concerns. The cultural historian Neal Gabler says that we have all become "information narcissists" utterly disinterested in anything "outside ourselves." Social network culture medicates our "need for self-esteem," adds best-selling author Neil Strauss, by "pandering to win followers." The acclaimed novelist Jonathan Franzen concurs, arguing that products like his and my BlackBerry Bold are "great allies and enablers of narcissism." These kind of gadgets, Franzen explains, have been designed to conform to our fantasy of wanting to be "liked" and to "reflect well on us." Their technology, therefore, is simply an "extension of our narcissistic selves. When we stare at screens in the Web 2.0 age, we are gazing at ourselves. It's all one big endless loop. We like the mirror and the mirror likes us." Franzen says, "To friend a person is merely to include the person in our private hall of flattering mirrors."
We broadcast ourselves and therefore we are (not).
Twenge, Campbell, Aboujaoude, Strauss and Franzen are all correct about this endless loop of great exhibitionism — an attention economy that, not uncoincidentally, combines a libertarian insistence on unrestrained individual freedom with the cult of the social. It's a public exhibition of self-love displayed in an online looking glass that New Atlantis senior editor Christine Rosen identifies as the "new narcissism" and New York Times columnist Ross Douthat calls a "desperate adolescent narcissism." Everything — from communications, commerce and culture to gaming, government and gambling — is going social. As David Brooks, Douthat's colleague at The Times, adds, "achievement is redefined as the ability to attract attention." All we, as individuals, want to do on the network, it seems, is share our reputations, our travel itineraries, our war plans, our professional credentials, our illnesses, our confessions, photographs of our latest meal, our sexual habits of course, even our exact whereabouts with our thousands of online friends. Network society has become a transparent love-in, an orgy of oversharing, an endless digital Summer of Love.
Like the network itself, our mass public confessional is global. People from all around the world are revealing their most private thoughts on a transparent network that anyone and everyone can access. In May 2011, when one of China's richest men, a billionaire investor called Wang Gongquan, left his wife for his mistress, he wrote on the Chinese version of Twitter, Sina Weiba, a service that has 140 million users: "I am giving up everything and eloping with Wang Qin. I feel ashamed and so am leaving without saying good-bye. I kneel down and beg forgiveness!" Gongquan's confession exploded virally. Within twenty-four hours, his post was republished 60,000 times with some of the billionaire's closest and most powerful friends publicly pleading with him to go back to his wife.
This love-in — what the author Steven Johnson, an oversharing advocate who, as @stevenberlinjohnson, has 1.5 million Twitter followers of his own, praised as "a networked version of The Truman Show, where we are all playing Truman," is quite a public spectacle. Rather than The Truman Show, however, this epidemic of oversharing, in its preoccupation with immortality, could be subtitled The Living and the Dead.
What If There Are No Secrets?
More and more of us are indeed playing Truman in a networked version of our own intimately personalized show. "What if there are no secrets?" imagined Jeff Jarvis in July 2010. A transparency evangelist at the City University of New York, Jarvis popularized the neologism "publicness" in a speech that same year entitled "Privacy, Publicness & Penises." By very publicly announcing his own prostate cancer in April 2009 and turning his life into "an open blog," Jarvis — the author of the 2011 transparency manifesto Public Parts, written in "homage" to shockjock Howard Stern's Private Parts biography — certainly promoted his own Benthamite thesis that "publicness grants immortality." Another apostle of publicness, the veteran social theorist Howard Rheingold, who, back in 1993 as a member of the pioneering Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link (the WELL), fathered the term "virtual community," revealed his own struggle with colon cancer online in early 2010. A third advocate of openness, the British technology writer Guy Kewney, who was afflicted with colorectal cancer, even used social media to chronicle his own impending death in April 2010.
While social media, for all its superhuman ability to see through walls, might not quite guarantee immortality, its impact is certainly of immense historical significance, what Jeff Jarvis describes as an "emblem of epochal change — as profound a technological development, in its own way, as anything invented in the last fifty years. You'll remember that Reid Hoffman defined this explosion of personal data as "Web 3.0." But John Doerr, the wealthiest venture capitalist in the world whom Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos once described as "the center of gravity on the Internet," goes even further than @quixotic in his historical analysis.
Doerr argues that "social" represents "the great third wave" of technological innovation, following directly in the wake of the invention of the personal computer and the Internet. The advent of social, local, and mobile technology now heralds what Doerr calls a "perfect storm" to disrupt traditional businesses. Such, indeed, is Doerr and his venture capitalist firm of Kleiner Perkin's confidence in this social revolution that, in October 2010, in partnership with Facebook and Mark Pincus's Zynga, Kleiner launched a quarter-billion-dollar sFund dedicated to exclusively putting money into social businesses. While on Valentine's Day 2011, the firm made what the Wall Street Journal described as a "small" $38 million investment in Facebook, buying the Silicon Valley venture capitalists no more than an affectionately symbolic 0.073% stake in the social media company. "We're making a blue ocean bet that social is just beginning," Bing Gordon, another Kleiner partner thus explains the firm's thinking behind its sFund. "Usage habits will change dramatically over the next 4–5 years."
Excerpted from Digital Vertigo by Andrew Keen. Copyright © 2012 Andrew Keen. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Hypervisibility 1
1 A Simple Idea of Architecture 19
2 Let's Get Naked 46
3 Visibility is a Trap 65
4 Digital Vertigo 84
5 The Cult of the Social 106
6 The Age of the Great Exhibition 121
7 The Age of Great Exhibitionism 145
8 The Best Picture of 2011 161
Conclusion: The Woman in Blue 180
"The Cult of the Social": Barnes & Noble Review Interview with Andrew Keen
After his first book, The Cult of the Amateur, was published in 2007, Andrew Keen established himself as one of Silicon Valley's most outspoken critics, the contrarian in their midst. With his second book, Digital Vertigo: How Today's Online Social Revolution Is Dividing, Diminishing, and Disorienting Us, Keen takes on social media, warning us that we may lose what makes us human when we post status updates on Facebook.
Andrew and I are friends who, more often than not, agree to disagree. That's what we did in the conversation below about his book. ?Anne Trubek
The Barnes & Noble Review: Let's begin with the cover of your book. The title appears as a hashtag (#digitalvertigo) and your name as your Twitter handle (@ajkeen). In this way, the book reminds me a bit of Plato's Phaedrus, in which he writes down Socrates' arguments against writing. Are you being hypocritical by advertising your book against social media by using the language of social media?
Andrew Keen: You shouldn't judge a cover by its book. As you say, Plato wrote down Socrates' arguments against writing. But rather than a tweet or a Facebook update, my book is a 60,000-word nonfiction narrative that can't be read in fifteen seconds from a smartphone while you are sitting at a stoplight.
The issue of hypocrisy irritates me. All too often, the first question anyone asks me is: "You tweet or blog and yet you've written a book against tweeting and blogging." BORING. I'll leave the business of being virtuous to the blogosphere. That said (and I really feel dirty claiming the moral high ground), but I'm actually surprisingly consistent. I'm not on Facebook or foursquare or Google + or almost any of the other social networks. I am on Twitter; this self-evident paradox is part of my narrative.
I hope Digital Vertigo is more than just a book which is simply against social media. Yes, I'm critical of Facebook and what I call Silicon Valley's "cult of the social," but this is a book in support of individual liberty in a digital age which will be lived on the network.
BNR: You employ a vast range of references in Digital Vertigo, from the greats of Western political philosophy Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill to the movers and shakers of today's Web, such as Reid Hoffman and Biz Stone. But women appear infrequently Sherry Turkle is the only thinker cited. However, at the end of the book you wax rhapsodic about a fictional woman, Vermeer's Woman in Blue, who represents the private individual, alone in her room, reading a letter. It's funny: I identify with that woman. I sometimes feel, when I am alone in my study, staring at my computer reading tweets, that sort of absorption in the social (via Twitter) and the glory of privacy (I'm alone in my study). What are the gender valences of social media, if any?
AK: I think you are wrong to say that women aren't prominent. Along with Vermeer's Woman in Blue, the two central characters in the narrative are Madeleine Elster and Judy Barton from Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. The book begins with a haunting tweet from Alexia Tsotsis and, as you say, I am very reliant on the invaluable research of the MIT professor Sherry Turkle.
Since finishing Digital Vertigo, I've read two excellent books by women which I wish I could have included in my argument. The first is Quiet, by Susan Cain, which brilliantly explodes the myth of the social value. The second is I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did by the thriller writer and law professor Lori Andrews, which is an erudite exposé of how social media is destroying privacy.
Yes, I'm reliant on John Stuart Mill ? but remember that Mill wrote in his Autobiography that most of his moral and intellectual development was realized through his wife, Harriet Taylor. So even the gendered origins of old J. S. Mill's ideas are more complicated that they first appear.
I'm avoiding your question, of course. Is there a gender bias in social media - - do men and women use it differently? I've no idea. I'm not well informed about the "valence" of either gender, so I will leave it to those, perhaps like yourself, who know more than me about this subject.
BNR: These days I notice I'm more solitary but feel less lonely, because I can interact on social media. Why am I wrong when I think of myself as having gained more privacy with the onset of social media?
AK: I decided to write Digital Vertigo because I saw two profoundly contradictory forces coexisting in the world. The first is the increasingly individualization, solitariness, and isolation of our lives, a phenomenon researched by prominent sociologists like Sherry Turkle, Dalton Conley, and Eric Klinenberg. The second is our increasingly obsession with all things social online from Facebook to foursquare to Twitter and Google +.
Causality is, of course, complex, and I don't argue that social media is the root cause of loneliness. Instead, I see it, in many ways, as a casualty of what the novelist Walter Kirn calls the "fragmentarian" nature of life in the early twenty-first century. And I'm convinced that the lonelier and more radically individualized we become, the more we fetishize the idea of the social on the Internet.
The problem with the Internet, however, is that it isn't social. It's an aggregation of increasingly atomized individuals who dip in and out of communities, networks, and friendships at the click of a mouse. The Internet is what Eli Pariser calls a "Filter Bubble." It's a gigantic mirror which reflects our desires, our interests, our biases.
BNR: You do a great job arguing that the social media visionaries are the heirs of the failed communitarian movements of the 1960s, which stemmed from a Rousseauian romanticism, for which they are nostalgic. Which point in the past are you nostalgic for?
AK: In Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher's film The Social Network, the fictional Sean Parker, played by Justin Timberlake, famously says: "First we lived in villages, then we lived in cities and now we are going to live on the Internet."
I think the fictional Parker is correct. And as we increasingly live on the Internet and use social location services like foursquare, Highlight, Glancee, Sonar and Facebook, we are losing not only our privacy but also our anonymity. The world we are creating is like the pre-industrial village ? only now it exists on a global scale. Everywhere we go online we are being watched and tracked ? by advertisers, by the government, by each other. It is a world increasingly without surprise, without mystery, without privacy or solitude.
The real Sean Parker has a new start-up called Airtime, which, he says, is intended to "eliminate loneliness." I'm nostalgic for a world in which billionaire entrepreneurs weren't in the business of eliminating loneliness.
BNR: You compare the ubiquity of our private lives on social media to Bentham's panopticon and draw upon Foucault's writings about the panopticon as well. But no one is making me live in a Facebook prison. Aren't you conflating voluntary publicity with forced incarceration?
AK: Bentham's panopticon wasn't just a prison ? he meant it to be incorporated into the architecture of schools, hospitals, and even cities. And Foucault is less interested in formal prisons than in the prison-like architecture of industrial life.
Nobody is forcing anyone of us to sign up for Facebook, Highlight, or foursquare. But as the Google "link" Web 2.0 economy is replaced by the Facebook "like" Web 3.0 economy, it is increasingly hard to avoid participating in social media. Indeed, only the very rich and the very poor can afford to disconnect. For the rest of us, our reputations, our community, indeed even our very identities are locked into the increasingly ubiquitous global electronic network.
BNR: You say "social reading really does, in a sense, represent the end of the world. It means the end of the isolated reader, the end of solitary thought, the end of purely individual literary reflection, the end of those long afternoons spent entirely alone with just a book" (43–44). Now, I argue that the notion of solitary reading is a pretty historically specific one: we needed artificial light (gas or electric), and, of course, print. For most of human history, people read communally (or even out loud, until the medieval era). And Dickens was more often than not read in a reading circle, with one person reading out loud from a book. So why didn't the world end then?
AK: You are welcome to go back to village and be collectively read to by the village elder in the candlelight of his hut (always a He, by the way). That's exactly the kind of communitarian pipe dream that I certainly don't want to resurrect in the well-lit twenty-first century. Yes, maybe there was a time when we didn't have the luxury of being able to read on our own. But there was also a time when we didn't have enough to eat, or the medicine to cure smallpox or the technology for heating homes. Does that justify a time when we were hungry, ill, and cold?
BNR: You see an Orwellian future in which we are all willingly giving the government information they can use against us. The social media visionaries, who are idealistic and talk about community and transparency, are the architects. Are the creators of LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter also, then, the architects of a future totalitarianism?
AK: It's not really an Orwellian future: It's more surreal than that. More like Borges, perhaps, or Shteyngart. The creators of LinkedIn and Facebook are the inadvertent architects of this future. Sheryl Sandberg, for example, Mark Zuckerberg's right-hand woman, says that Facebook is finally enabling us to become "authentic." The truth, though, is that Facebook is enabling Sandberg and a handful of Silicon Valley programmers to become immensely rich. Yes, Facebook could, as Julian Assange noted, be a CIA plot which convinces all of us to broadcast our most intimate data to the world. The creepiest thing of all about Facebook, however, is that it isn't a CIA plot.
At the beginning of his classic critique of television culture, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman argued that we got our dystopias the wrong way around. Rather than George Orwell's totalitarian 1984, Postman said, we are now living in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, a place of collective cultural amnesia and narcissism. Postman was right. Only it's a democratized dystopia. We are the ones populating Facebook with our most personal data. We ? rather than Sheryl Sandberg or Mark Zuckerberg ? have to take responsibility for our creepily collective future.
BNR: I love Twitter. I feel I have an intellectual community for the first time in my life. I live in Cleveland (and therefore have fewer options for intellectual gatherings than you, living Northern California). I feel much more connected to like-minded people than ever before. I feel less lonely. If I never tell people on Twitter my geographic location or who I had sex with last night, what's the problem?
AK: I guess I'm okay with lonely women in Cleveland being on Twitter. But let's limit it to people in Ohio. =)
Anne Trubek is Chair of Rhetoric and Composition at Oberlin College and the author of A Skeptic's Guide to Writers' Houses.