How to Write a Tech-Panic Manifesto: Pessimism by numbers.

Author:Thierer, Adam
Position:BOOKS - Critical essay
 
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IF YOU WANT to sell a book about tech policy these days, there's an easy formula to follow.

First you need a villain. Google and Facebook should suffice, but if you can throw in Apple, Amazon, or Twitter, that's even better. Paint their CEOs as either James Bond baddies bent on world domination or naive do-gooders obsessed with the quixotic promise of innovation.

Then you repackage some old chestnuts about commercialism or false consciousness. Add a dash of pop psychology and behavioral economics. Be sure to include a litany of woes about cognitive overload and social isolation.

Finally, come up with a juicy Chicken Little title. Maybe somethinglike World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of BigTech.

Wait--that one's taken. It's the title of Franklin Foer's latest book, which follows this familiar techno-panic template almost perfectly.

Foer's arguments may not break any new ground, but he has managed to bring together in one tome the three dominant fears of modern tech criticism: the death of journalism and high culture, the growth of unstoppable tech conglomerates, and the rise of isolated, distracted individuals. This trifecta of troubles is leading us down a "terrifying trajectory," Foer says. It is eroding "the integrity of institutions," even "altering human evolution."

It all sounds quite ominous. But it isn't any more convincing than those other anti-technology texts.

FOER, A CORRESPONDENT for The Atlantic, begins by admitting he's more than a little bitter about his own run-in with a Silicon Valley do-gooder. Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes bought a stake in The New Republic in 2012, then hired Foer to serve as editor of the magazine. But the relationship deteriorated quickly, and Foer was dismissed two years later.

Foer's experience with Hughes serves as the foundation for his fusillade against the technology sector. Echoing themes already developed in books by Andrew Keen (The Cult of the Amateur), Lee Siegel (Against the Machine), Jaron Lanier (You Are Not a Gadget), and Mark Helprin (Digital Barbarism), Foer rails against Silicon Valley's "assault on journalism" and "war on professional writers," charging the internet with the "death of the author" and the "collapse of the economic value of knowledge."

Like many in his profession, Foer isn't a fan of journalism being a business at all. While originally viewing Hughes as a "savior" ready to subsidize a magazine, Foer soured on him once the dreaded demands of popularity and...

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