The latest treatise on technology taking over our lives suggests democratic systems are incompatible with the digital age, but the theory lacks coherence
There is a clear, algorithmic formula for writing books about technology and society in 2018. Authors are generally required to be male, their documented personal journey must have been from that of techno-optimist to techno-sceptic to techno-panicker. There must be an urgent existential threat to either democracy or humanity lurking in the code base of Silicon Valley companies. The intractable crisis is not so profound, however, that it cannot be solved by a hail of partially thought-through remedies tacked on in the appendix.
This recipe is producing a growing body of what might be termed “techlash” literature: the backlash against Silicon Valley and its seemingly unstoppable accretion of wealth, data and cultural and political capital. Where once we might have read expansive works of science fiction creating vivid and ambiguous alternative realities to help us navigate the future, now we have worrisome documentaries of threats so present they have often played out by the time the galley hits the review pile. In the last year several notable techlash titles have appeared, including Franklin Foer’s World Without Mind, Tim Wu’s The Attention Merchants and Jonathan Taplin’s Move Fast and Break Things.