Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Digital Elite

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Digital Elite

Article excerpt

"The prophet of Silicon Valley", proclaims the American edition of Jaron Lather's new book, Who Owns the Future?. The author, a large man with waist-length dreadlocks, throws his hands to his head in mock horror. He might be on a book tour, staying in a marbled London hotel, but he is not a guru. "I'm always running into people in Silicon Valley with business cards saying something like 'corporate visionary'," he says, derision lacing his gentle west coast accent. "It's just, urgh."

Lanier, a computer scientist and writer and one of the earliest internet pioneers, has a fairly bleak vision of the future for one raised in the sunny valleys of Californian optimism. He sees a world where people say they are "addicted" to digital interaction but rarely "fulfilled" by it, where instead of living in a networked paradise, we inhabit a dystopia in which a few mega-corporates - Google, Facebook, Amazon - hold vast amounts of wealth and power and middle-class people will lose their jobs. It'll be not just the musicians and journalists - the obvious victims of changing technology - but health workers, truck drivers, manufacturers, anyone who can eventually be replaced by a machine. The power rests in what Lanier calls the "Siren Servers": giant corporate repositories of information about our lives that we have given freely and often without consent, now being used for huge financial benefit by a super-rich few.

We've already felt the brutal effects of this, he argues. "The phenomenon of the Google/Facebook style of information concentration is precisely the same as what brought about the austerity crisis" - that is, the technologically sophisticated but catastrophic virtual world of high finance which triggered the zoo8 financial crash. Marx looms large ("his writing on alienation is really applicable to Facebook"), though Lanier concedes that talking about the philosopher in the US is "like declaring oneself a jihadist". …

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