There seem to be a lot of books lately raising alarms about the Internet, what’s different about your book?
Well, really there are two things that are different. Firstly, the digitization of our lives is a much broader issue than just the Internet…and there is a tendency in most books to narrow the discussion down to just one issue, say privacy, or education. Too Much Magic is a much more holistic approach that shows how all these digital touch points connect into an ecosystem that is more pervasive, and actually invasive.
Secondly, most books on tech culture are really an inner dialog among academics, marketeers and the digerati class, and they are a set of debating points, the kind of stuff that makes the authors great candidates for industry conferences, but often is just academic. They really are not addressing the human experiences of digital life the way that the rest of us are living it. This book is very inclusive and intuitive for people to understand. When I read the book to people I see a lot of heads nodding.
Given that that the Bay Area is thick with people dependent on the tech industry are you making enemies?
Let me be clear, I am a long-time lover of technology, I’m just not thrilled with the models that are evolving that are more focused on monetization for what are actually trivial applications of tech…or turning everything we do into just one more way to target people with advertising. We can do better.
The Cult of Tech makes it sound rather conspiratorial. Isn’t that a bit farfetched?
Not a conspiracy, but certainly an alignment of self-serving and mutual interests. That’s what the cult of tech is really about. Like the financial industry, it has become extremely self-serving and seeks to intimidate those that are not “in the know.”
The self-promotion is pretty shameless. Such as the game designer telling us that reality is broken and only game play can save us. Which is just an absurd notion given that the game industry has unleashed social dysfunction on an unprecedented scale…and the games are really unimaginative. Sure the graphics get better, but the gameplay is the same as it was 20 years ago. Shooting and driving. Braindead. And now our movies are starting to look like games.
With most development these days focusing on social media, do you feel that it actually has any value?
I think it has huge value for people to maintain connections with friends and associates…the troubling thing is that companies like Facebook are more interested in mining your social life to target you with ads than in creating a good experience. Also, as in the dotcom days, the circus is in town, and there are newly minted social media “experts” who have never actually done any work other than promote themselves, their books and conferences via social media.
But you yourself have been involved in the Tech industry and continue to be?
That is true, but it has changed. Originally the digital revolution was about Macs and PCs breaking us away from big computing…the cloud is really a return to the bad old days of centralized services. There are also social dangers from people feeling that they need to be constantly connected or they have anxiety attacks. Technology can solve a lot of problems, but the technologies often get too far out in front of the sociology. That said, I am still optimistic. If I wasn’t I wouldn’t have bothered writing the book.