The title says it all. This is a bitter book. Written in essayistic, first-person narrative, it talks about things we all know from our daily experience ever since social media became our whole world. Behaviour modification and fake news are the topics of the day, but there are other less outspoken transformations also occurring: blurred boundaries between work and private life, the precarious conditions of permanent availability, the paradox between the hyper-individualised subject and the herd mentality of the social, the pressure to lead a predictable life, permanent social ranking, amplified but less visible hierarchies, indifference, hatred.
In spite of its bitterness, it is a pleasure reading as it not only observes but also gives these things a broader meaning and places them in a historical context. Take, for example, the hype around big data and artificial intelligence. We are impressed by the knowledge that can be obtained through analysing huge quantities of information, but knowing data is also collected about us raises a multitude of concerns. Author Geert Lovink connects this discontent to the 1970 resistance against the census in the Netherlands and the German protests of 1983. «For these protestors, the big data collection of personal IDs, matched with identifiers such as religion, political beliefs, and ethnic background was unacceptable», (p 88). He meticulously explains how recent focus on the computer as interface obscured its initial, computational purpose, and thus the fact that statistics and computers have a joint origin in the widespread use of IBM’s punch card technology by the Nazis to coordinate forced labor, and its broader role within the Holocaust in terms of counting and selecting Jews (p 84).
The platform age
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The age of platforms
MEDIA: Analyzing contemporary social media practices likes fake news, Geert Lovink looks toward a possible end to «platform nihilism».