They told us
Smart, thoughtful people have been showing us the way to a more complete conversation about modern media and civic life for decades . It's time we listen.
This article is part of a series of thinking examining modern media and our civic life including my new book For ALL the People coming Feb 23, 2021.
The weeks since the election have revealed in stark relief the civic crisis America faces. It has also brought into the mainstream a conversation about the civic and social dangers of greater connectivity, of the evolution and expansion of media, and the rise and mainstreaming of mis/disinformation that has been happening and been studied for decades. Both the consequences and the conversation have gone mainstream on the backs of unprecedented disinformation and of the palpable, painful, and violent consequences of a society fractured and fragmented by systems ostensibly meant to connect us.
My upcoming book, For ALL the People, is coming out February 23rd. Writing it has been a seven-year project, and yet it is coming out in the midst of a moment of crisis and opportunity. The universe is funny that way — ensuring conversations happen when we’re ready for (or desperate for) them. This book is my contribution to this conversation. It is important to recognize that this conversation about the darker and unintended consequences of technology and modern media (and how we confront them) has been going on under the surface of the louder, dominant cyberutopian narrative that drives the glittering, venture-backed profit machine of Silicon Valley for years. I would never claim to have written an academic book, and I did try where ever I could to reference and acknowledge others throughout. Like all complex conversations, there are important voices that guided me to the ideas I present in this book and that are the shoulders on which this whole conversation is standing.
David Nye started talking about cyber-dystopia back in 2005
Malcolm Gladwell dissected Clay Shirky in 2010
Nancy Baym in her 2010 book Personal Connections in the Digital Age
Evgeny Morozov unpacked the global implications in his book The Net Delusion in 2011
Rebecca MacKinnon gave us a framework for interrogating new power in 2012 with Consent of the Networked
Andrew Keen, Jaron Lanier, and Nicholas Carr, and many, many, many others.
This conversation has been accelerating dramatically in recent years, getting more complete and more inclusive as it collides with conversations about security, inequality, racism, and class.
Molly Sauter’s The Coming Swarm
Safiya Umoja Noble’s Algorithms of Oppression
Siva Vaidhyanathan’s Antisocial Media
Mary L. Gray and Siddharth Suri in Ghost Work
Cathy O’Neill’s Weapons of Math Destruction
Virginia Eubanks’ Automating Inequality
Academic labs and leadership from others from Rebekah Tromble at GWU, Laura Edelson at NYU, Jennifer Stromer-Galley at Syracuse, Talia Stroud at UT, Yael Eisenstat, and many, many, many more.
The durable naivety under the surface of the cyberutopian views of technology and the internet is deeply connected to the rise of neoliberal economic ideology that demands we replace meaning with accomplishment and community with a commitment to wealth and growth at all costs. Our willingness to reexamine media and reclaim our civic life is fundamentally connected to our willingness to reexamine our social contract and re-articulate what we want from community. Meaning matters. Growth and wealth ought to be harnessed in service of humanity, not the other way around.
But we are in the moment and in the conversation we must confront — needed, ready, or desperate. Clear eyes, full hearts — can’t lose.
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