Against the Machine: Being Human in the Era of the Electronic Mob by Lee Siegel

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Against the Machine: Being Human in the Era of the Electronic Mob by Lee Siegel

Category: Home and Family
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A challenging look at how the internet has developed and a discussion about whether it needs to be the way that it is. It's about the problems rather than the solutions but is still recommended reading.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: June 2008
Publisher: Profile Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-1846686979

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Some people switch the television or the radio on first thing in the morning and only turn it off when they go to bed. For me, it's the computer and particularly the internet. It's my source of information, my work, my play and to an unfortunately large extent, my social life. To most it seems bizarre that I list amongst my friends people I've never met or even spoken to, but it's a fact. Whilst I might argue that circumstances have thrust this situation upon me and that life would be emptier without the computer it's still something which shouldn't be allowed to persist without thought. High-tech isolation and social famine are not necessarily the best way forward.

Lee Siegel's motivation for writing Against the Machine lies, strangely enough, in cars. For years it was thought that deaths in car accidents were simply a fact of life: cars were progress. We could hardly go back to the horse and cart – we wouldn't want to – and if people were killed then that was something which was accepted in the name of progress. Then in 1965 Ralph Nader published Unsafe at Any Speed, his exposé of the motor industry and it was obvious that most of the deaths were unnecessary. It did not need to be that way. Against the Machine is Siegel's argument that the internet does not need to be the way that it is.

The internet is convenient – I doubt that anyone who has grown used to it would contradict that point – but in dashing to embrace its convenience we have chosen to overlook its problems and shortcomings: along with convenience comes 'greed and blind self-interest'. Whilst we used to look for knowledge, we now search for information and assume that it is knowledge.

The book is divided into three parts. In the first part Siegel challenges how we see the internet as we go about creating our own external reality out of our own internal desires. It's an interesting and varied section which repays rereading and thought. I came away from it concerned that the people who are boosting the internet frequently have financial or professional interests in it and that people like Bill Gates see the solution to problems with the internet as being within the net. I was shocked that people who perpetrate hoaxes don't attract mockery and disgust as I would have expected, but seem to attract approbation.

The second part introduced me to a concept which had never crossed my mind before – popularity for popularity's sake. It used to be that to be successful you had to stand out; to be different but Siegel argues that popularity is Web culture's Holy Grail. To be popular it's necessary to be like others, to be as like as many others as possible, so success on the internet goes to those who are more like everyone else than anyone else. It seems to me that mediocrity is inherent in this approach but Siegel makes a convincing argument that this is the way the internet will go.

Parts one and two required study and thought, but the effort was certainly repaid. The book is obviously written by an American for Americans and I did find this unnecessarily exclusive at times, but it's worth putting this to one side. I found part three easier reading, perhaps because it comes closest to my own particular area of interest. Siegel looks at blogs and the power of the Bloggers and I was surprised that he saw the balance of power as being with the Bloggers. Once again the arguments are compelling and thought-provoking. I've never taken the approach of hiding my identity when online but I can only agree with Siegel that there are a lot of people hiding behind a second identity and being rude and obnoxious, quite possibly because they haven't got a life in the first place. To some extent he confirms my long-held view that there are a lot of people on the internet who simply can't hack it in real life.

The book didn't cheer me. The internet has been a large part of my life for many years now and reading this book was akin to realising that a trusted friend was actually doing a bit of drug dealing on the side, but I would rather see the murky side and work out how to deal with it than remain in ignorance. Siegel is strong on pointing out the problems but less forthcoming about what he sees as the solutions but perhaps it's necessary to understand the extent of the problems before we start applying the Band Aids. Going back to the way it was before the internet is not something that I would like to contemplate.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Buy Against the Machine: Being Human in the Era of the Electronic Mob by Lee Siegel at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Against the Machine: Being Human in the Era of the Electronic Mob by Lee Siegel at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Against the Machine: Being Human in the Era of the Electronic Mob by Lee Siegel at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Against the Machine: Being Human in the Era of the Electronic Mob by Lee Siegel at Amazon.com.


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