Andrew Keen has written an incisive manifesto in which he introduces readers to the darker side of the Internet. In substantiating his argument, he demonstrates that the Internet has triggered the most disruptive change in our society since the Industrial Revolution. Proponents of the Internet claim that it gives us greater freedom and more power as consumers, and that it brings more democracy. Yet we seem to turn a blind eye to the negative effects the Internet has on the economy, our psychology and our culture. Andrew Keen rigorously expounds on this in his book, The Internet Is Not the Answer.
In the book, Keen scrutinises the changes in our society since the advent of the Internet. He describes the positive changes we all benefit from, yet primarily wants to make us aware of the frightening, darker sides of technology. As consumers, almost all of us are better off; but as citizens, if anything, the opposite is true.
As consumers, we reap the fruits of technological progress. All the information we need is available to us 24/7, we can order almost any conceivable product at any at time, we effortlessly find out where the product we want is the cheapest, operate equipment at home while we’re away and so on. As citizens, we’re worse off, though. Thousands of people have lost their jobs because of the Internet, the gulf between rich and poor has widened the world over and our safety and privacy are far from guaranteed.
What Keen finds particularly disturbing is that the Internet makes 1% of the world’s population ultra-rich. They seem to have little regard for the negative consequences for those who have made them rich. Take Amazon, for example: the company wields so much power that it puts publishers under extreme pressure. Moreover, the working conditions in Amazon’s warehouses are dire. Mark Zuckerberg, who has little respect for other people’s privacy, has bought up all the properties around his home to safeguard his own.
Keen describes three periods in the history of the Internet:
- The first period runs from the end of the Second World War to the early 1990s. Idealism is what drives the ground-breaking technologists and the inventor of the World Wide Web.
- The second period stretches from the early 1990s to the present day. This period is characterised by the radical deregulation of the Internet plus the transformation of Silicon Valley into an increasingly speculative market monopolised by venture capitalists. The digital economy is dominated by ostensibly “free” technologies like Facebook and Google, creating an uncontrolled version of the Internet that exacerbates the inequality between rich and poor, erodes the middle class and aggravates the unemployment crisis. Internet users have become the primary product.
- The third period in the history of the Internet is currently emerging. This is the end of what President Obama described in 2015 as the “Wild Wild West” period of the Internet. A new age of collaboration between the public and the private sectors has dawned in an attempt to quash a series of rapidly evolving online threats. Keen illustrates this with the fact that in 2015 the current European Commissioner for Competition was prepared to condemn Google because of the company’s monopolistic behaviour in Europe.
The Internet is Not the Answer offers plenty of food for thought. Keen is sometimes rather biased in describing the disadvantages of the Internet and the conduct of those who control it. However, this approach is necessary to compensate for all the positive stories we hear about the Internet. His carefully substantiated book is an attractive blend of personal views and staggering statistics. It is definitely a must read, if only to understand in what direction we’re heading, be it consciously or unconsciously, and just how gullible people are in believing in the advantages of the Internet.
Mireille Schrijnemaekers is a Marketing Consultant and Interim Manager at Zelino BV, and has 20 years’ working experience at large and international organisations including Vodafone, Ernst & Young, KPN, Pon and SNS Bank. This review, and others by Schrijnemaekers, appears in Dutch here.