Against The Machine: Being Human In The Age of The Electronic Mob

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Against The MachineAgainst The Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob by social critic Lee Siegel questions the benefits and positive assumptions about the Internet and its resulting culture.

The author makes the most of 182 pages through sociological critique of internet culture through his noted ability to debate and offer critical thought.

I received a free copy of this book from a Search Engine Strategies expo during his presentation there a year ago, so I figured to give this small book a big whirl of a review.

Beware the Copycat Culture and Its Lost Art of Originality
Siegel challenges claims from many well known Internet boosters that the Internet fosters free choice & debate.  Instead, he says, there has been an assimilation of culture that hampers debate and encourages only a superficial treatment of choice and originality.  The results have been obscured by marketplace values, Siegel writes:

“The internet’s assimilation to a familiar economic idiom is why its more disturbing and destructive side has been obscured…”

In terms of debate, Siegel feels online examinations of issues have the potential to be too corporate, “So what you usually get by with are sunny facile corporate-funded gestures towards criticism.” As an example, Siegel mentions the Pew Report, a 2006 assessment of the state of the Internet which forecast the death of newspapers due to the internet, but “maybe one reason the Pew report is so upbeat is that 8 of 12 who wrote it have a financial or professional stake in the internet.”

Famous for Being Talented or for Being Popular?

Siegel challenges the idea that people are being liberated by creativity and choice on the web; by posting videos on YouTube, for example, online users are merely becoming derivative of each other.

“Internet culture is about finding a clique or group and striving to reproduce its style with your own adorable, unthreatening, superficial twist. Popular culture used to draw people to what they liked. Internet culture draws people to what everyone else likes.”