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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 9 page 22


I should say that altho Keen’s heart is in the right place, his fast and furious style, with its overdose of rhetorical effect, tends to undermine confidence in his economic arguments. If he is right that the Digital Revolution is responsible for the world-wide economic torpor of recent years, then we need to know. But he has the bad habit of contrasting big job losses in certain traditional sectors with measly hirings at specific internet companies, which seems an untenable method. He tries to shore up his argument with a ton of supportive quotes from economists, journalists, sociologists, and other experts and non-experts, but again that kind of approach makes an argument feel puffy rather than persuasive.

Generally, pessimists will embrace this book, optimists may find it tough to put up with.

It’s too soon to know if what has been called the uberization of the economy — where almost everybody leads a precarious, servile, freelance existence, which I was mentioning above — will take hold on as wide a scale as Andrew Keen fears. Uber itself is meeting resistance from regulators in many cities and also from its own drivers, at least on the West Coast, who feel that the company should pay their expenses and benefits. If Uber had to treat its workers as employees, that would undermine its entire Weltanshauung.

In fact, lots of stuff could change. The social media network effect could be thrown into reverse if people decide they prefer the experience of local and hyper-local sites such as the truly insidious Yik Yak. That's all we need, anonymous gossip sites localized to particular campuses, corporations, professions, buildings, peer groups.

Anyhow, when the overall economy and employment pick up, as is happening now in the USA, Keen’s sort of doom talk gets less traction. But it stands to reason that within a generation the Digital Revolution will have eliminated or transformed most occupations. If you keep your eye on the pyramidal socio-economic structure (the 1% atop the 99%) you have to expect that the pressure will be on the middle and lower classes. The 1% had better have some terrific bread and circuses lined up for the rest of us.

Keen doesn’t present much of a plan to save us from the internet. Open up a “conversation” about the impact of the internet on the economy, he says. Make the “digital elite” accountable for the havoc they wreak, because “this plutocracy must be beamed back down to earth.” Good advice! Keen also pushes the idea of government intervention, which is somewhat higher on the threat scale, but it's hard to picture the internet-besotted public clamoring to break up Google or Facebook.

It’s true that recently I am hearing more negative comment about the internet than a few years ago, but on the other hand I don’t see anyone giving the internet up.

Let’s fantasize for a moment: Maybe there could be legislation to force the internet moguls to pay us a share of the profits for our participation in the technology that they got for free from the government which was paid for by everybody’s taxes. It would be like social royalties coming back to us. Sound like a good idea? Kindly text, tweet, or post your views on that.