Jaron Lanier, pioneer turned digital sceptic, explains in an extract from his new book why we must take back control

It might not seem like it at first, but I’m an optimist. I don’t think we have to throw the whole digital world away. But there is one particular hi-tech thing that is toxic even in small quantities.

The issue isn’t only that internet users are crammed into environments that can bring out the worst in us, or that so much power has concentrated into a tiny number of hands that control giant cloud computers. A bigger problem is that we are all carrying around devices that are suitable for mass behaviour modification. For example, with old-fashioned advertising, you could measure whether a product did better after an ad was run, but now companies are measuring whether individuals change their behaviours as they browse, and the feeds for each person are constantly tweaked to get the desired result. In short, your behaviour has been turned into a product – and corporate and political clients are lining up to modify it.

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