Glimpses of a Book #6

The People Vs Tech

By Jamie Bartlett



I came to discover this book by chance, but it was definitely one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve ever read… It was like reading what I’ve been exactly feeling these days, but put it into a sophisticated, clear and powerful way with proofs and statements.

For those who, like me, are concerned about where all these technological developments will lead us (and somewhat a little pessimistic about it), this book will give you deeper insights on what actually is going on in a “Tech” world – how crypto-currencies might lead to anarchy, why are some “Techs” in Silicon Valley are not so hopeful about the future that they are discussing survivalism, and how our beloved democracy might end with our own hands.

Even (more like especially) for those who do not usually reflect on these issues, I suggest reading it. It opens your eyes and takes you into the world which you’d wish you did’t know but you should know, because it is how you are manipulated in this date-driven society.

Let’s go into some tidbits of the book, then…

Chapter 1: The New Panopticon

About how we are always connected to other people on the Internet :

Our modern panopticon doesn’t have just one watchman: everyone is both watching and being watched” (P.27)

As a result :

“… more and more people will conclude it is safer just to never say anything” (P.28)

[This chapter was particularly intriguing, since I’ve made a blogpost on similar idea – social media and self-censorship – in the past ; Freedom of Speech and Blockchain ]

Also, there was one sentence in this chapter that struck me :

If a machine diagnosis were repeatedly better than a human doctor, it would potentially be unethical to ignore the machine’s advice” (P.36)

It is not, after all, machines that will take our jobs away, but it is us that let machine do our jobs, make decisions for us, and eventually shape our reality.


Chapter 2 : The Global Village

In this chapter, the author talks about tribalisation of society. Thanks to the Internet, we can now easily find people with similar tastes, thoughts and opinions, which creates new kind of tribal. What’s the problem with it? Well, people belong to a certain community with certain thoughts shared, and this will likely to cause extreme thoughts, and hatred because they have no opportunity to meet people with different opinions (which we usually do if you live in an offline world).

In addition, when you belong to a community, it distinguishes you from other communities, and those differences among communities tend to get overemphasized. It is no longer “you and me” but “you VS. me”. Here, the author plainly sums up :

Tribalism is understandable, but ultimately it is damaging to democracy, because it has the effect of magnifying the small differences between us, and transforming them into enormous, unsurpassable gulfs.” (P.50)


Chapter 3 : Software Wars

It’s all about data.

Our society nowadays functions on data collected on the Internet (your Facebook profile, Google research, which products you buy on Amazon etc.) and the greatest profit generated by those who analyze data and interrupt it accurately.

We no longer buy that shampoo because we want it, but because we are influenced by the things we (unconsciously) see on the Internet. In the same way, we no longer vote for that candidate because we believe him/her.

We used to call this sort of thing propaganda. Now we call it a ‘behavioral approach to persuasive communication with quantifiable results’…” (P.83)

Brainwashing used to be disfavored, but now brainwashing is a scientific method.

“… the more politics becomes a question of smart analysis and nudges rather than argument, the further power will shift away from those with good ideas and towards those with good data and lots of money” (P.90)


There are many more fascinating aspects on how our democracy may be at stake, but I should stop writing here, so that you might be interested in finding them out yourself!

In following chapters, the author discuss jobless future, monopoly and anarchy – threats to democracy – and how they are slowly but certainly appearing to our society.

Of course, these are all negative outlooks of technology and the book might be exaggerating a little bit, but it is always better to prepare for the worst, so as not to make the worst happen.

For all of us who are experiencing this great transition era by technology, perhaps it is our responsibility to navigate the world in the right direction…


The author of the book

Jamie Bartlett , Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos

[His books on Amazon]



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