In an age where our every action can be harvested as data and used against us, Jamie Susskind’s book makes crucial reading
Nothing is as remote as yesterday’s utopias. From the 1990s until the end of the last decade, the explosion in computing power was seen by wide-eyed optimists as a force for liberation that would lay low unaccountable authority. Their eyes have narrowed now. Democracy, justice, our very ability to earn a living, feel precarious. “All that is solid melts into air,” said Marx of 19th-century capitalism. In our times, not only do economic systems feel unstable, but basic assumptions on how humans live together.
Now, and ever more so in the future, how we perceive the world will be determined by what is revealed and concealed by social media and search services, affective computing and virtual reality platforms. The distinction between cyberspace and real space is becoming redundant. The two are merging, and as they come together, companies and states will have the power to control our perceptions. The fragmentation social media promotes has been discussed to death. But it is worth stressing that automated systems are placing us in silos. It is their choice not ours to create a world where the people who most need to hear opposing views are the least likely to hear them. Meanwhile, the scandal of the Brexit campaign is setting the pattern for all campaigns; showing how politcians and their agents can harvest data and target propaganda, tailored to meet its recipients’ prejudices, without any public authority regulating it or even knowing about it.