World Without Mind

Humans get used to the benefits of new technology fast. There is an entire generation alive today (born since 1989) which has never known a world without the Internet or the instantly gratifying means of digital communication delivered by portable devices. Life is hardly imaginable without the kit. As with most things in human life, though, there is a price to be paid, and perils lurk alongside the benefits.  We should slow down and reflect on what may be the implications of new technologies. In this book, Franklin Foer ( argues that lack of regulatory oversight has allowed tech companies to devalue knowledge and imperil democracy worldwide.

World Without Mind focuses on Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon, the behemoths which have come to dominate human experience across the globe.  After briefly tracing Silicon Valley’s cultural history, Foer devotes a chapter to each company, paying special attention to the worldviews of their founders, some of whom — like Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos — are now among the wealthiest and most powerful individuals on the planet.

While neither the companies nor the worldviews are identical, these firms are united in that they have developed platforms that they want you, the consumer, to become addicted to. A platform, however, doesn’t amount to much unless it’s a platform for something: information, commerce, social interaction. And there’s the rub. The companies, according to Foer, don’t give a damn about the use to which the platforms are put, only profitability for the operators. Facebook captures and manipulates your personal  data which it uses to sell ads and run experiments with little concern for your privacy. Amazon has tremendous leverage over companies whose stuff it sells, leading to, among other consequences, the drastic alteration of the publishing industry. By unbundling and devaluing ‘content’, Foer claims, tech firms have deprofessionalized writing. Writing online is further compromised. First, algorithms help determine who sees it, but algorithms themselves are underlain by human choices and values. Foer writes, ‘When we outsource thinking to machines, we are really outsourcing thinking to the organizations that run the machines.’ It is the interests of these organizations that are being served. Second, popularity trumps quality. Thus, mainstream news programmes feel obliged to tell us when something has ‘gone viral’.  Our culture is dragged down to constant tittle-tattle and packaged for the attention span of a Twitter user.

Foer leads the reader to a larger point – that society has prostrated itself to markets and monetary value, and that the tech companies propel us forcefully in that direction. World Without Mind argues that we must actively fashion the Internet we want instead of accepting, by default, what markets give us. The book calls for strengthening and updating intellectual property laws and stepping up antitrust and regulatory action: ‘The health of our democracy demands that we consider treating Facebook, Google, and Amazon with the same firm hand that led government to wage war on AT&T, IBM, and Microsoft.’

It is going to take a battle to bring about the changes Foer advocates. He thinks it’s most likely to occur only after enormous and damaging hacks, the kind that disclose enough private information to wreck lives, or disrupt systems in ways that cause death and destruction. But that may well happen. In the meantime you can Tweet about this book to your friends since reading its 272 pages is definitely off the cards. I mean, think of the Facebook and Twitter time wasted by so doing.

Check if this thought-provoking new book is in stock at your local library by consulting the online catalogue at

272 in Jonathan Cape

First published 2017

ISBN  978-1787330283

Franklin Foer

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