Andrew Keen's (@AJKeen) new book is coming out May 22, Digital Vertigo: How Today's Online Social Revolution is Dividing, Diminishing, and Disorienting Us.
It's a great read, thoughtful and penetrating as can be expected of Keen, and a good antidote to other books out there styled as critical, like Rebecca MacKinnon's Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom, which still celebrates the Internet social media phenomena itself, while critical only of certain actors and policies, or even Evgeny Morozov's Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom darkly morose about cyber-utopias without criticizing the collectivization of online life.
Keen's book is (deliberately) to be released just in time for Facebook's IPO -- and that's more than fine, as the public -- when you go public! -- and public intellectuals should be able to weigh in on their concerns about these social media companies.
Lots of people will be getting rich off Facebook stock, but we who have toiled in its content and connection vineyards for years are only further diminished -- and Keen's arguments and careful case studies clinch it.
Keen goes even further than his critical The Cult of the Amateur in demanding to know what we really get from all this social media socialization. While it would seem we have harnessed engines to "empower" ourselves and express ourselves, we are diminished precisely because we become fractured into mere reflections of ourselves.
It's the first book I've seen that really analyzes the collectivization of social media that is occuring, where you *can't not* be online -- that if you don't connect and "share" you begin to be suspect or left out.
It struck me as I was reading his musings about being alone in a city as the quintessential urban experience of privacy that like communism, to which I always compare it, the social media revolution is profoundly conservative. In fact, it seeks to take people back to an agrarian life where they were all in a community with a commons -- even aggressively coercing them back to this pastoral life. It's actually a profound reaction to modernism and to the individual urban life. Keen also indicates that the fierce competition among individuals and individualized expression also seems to be driving the socialization.
It's funny, just after I was reading parts of his book, I came to my blog and saw Posterous wasn't auto-posting correctly. I went back to the Posterous homepage and saw "We have been acquired by Twitter!" and the dashboard all changed. Sigh. The slogan in the upper left-hand corner on the splashpage now says WORK LESS, SHARE MORE. Indeed.
Keen also captures the intermediary phenomenon of these platforms (see The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord) and how they get in the way of life constantly -- and yet their tug is incredible. Insect politics! He describes standing in front of the "Auto-Icon" of Jeremy Bentham, originator of the "panopticon" notion (and builder of prisons as well as utilitarian philosopher) -- he had himself preserved, like Lenin. Keen muses on his theories as he stares at the waxen head of Bentham, and sees how the Panopticon has come scarily to life in our time for everybody, not just prisoners, and then he thinks that he really should Tweet the picture of Bentham's booth with a witty saying, "I UPDATE THEREFORE I AM." He then stops himself, and keeps it private (until this book, of course, where at least you can see it within a larger context of a body of thought).
It's also the first book I've seen to treat Second Life as a philosophical problem, not just a social or cultural manifestation ("SL as flying penises") - although of course the seminal anthropological study is Coming of Age in Second Life by Tom Boellstorff -- Thomas Malaby's far thinner treatment, Making Worlds: Linden Lab and Second Life was made in cooperation with Linden Lab itself and is a corporate study of LL, not a study of the SL society.)
Keen speaks of "the second life" lived online as the philosophical phenomenon, of which of course Second Life is the originator and most essential form, I suppose:
The Internet— with its virtual worlds like Second Life— has transformed the idea of immortality from a religious metaphor into a digital possibility.
But he also addresses Second Life the world, and discusses Philip Rosedale, its founder. Here's a taste:
As we stood together drinking champagne in the fading light of the Oxford evening, Rosedale -- a bronzed Southern Californian whose athletic physique seemed more suited to the well lit utopia of Second Life than to a darkly gothic ninetheenth-century Oxford Library -- and I warmed up for the Union debate with a little intellectual joust of our own. We were comparing the merits of Benjamin Woodward's nineteenth-century physical building with the transparent architecture of the twenty-first-century virtual network.
"So how does being here contrast to being on the Internet" I asked him, sweeping my half empty champagne flute around the library. "Which experience, do you think, is more memorable?"
I won't spoil it for you by telling you Philip's answer -- you should buy the hardcover or Kindle versions while they're discounted on pre-order -- the release date is May 22.
I'm still reading the book and will have much more to say -- but I must say I'm finding it frustrating trying to read the PDF review copy -- I don't have a Kindle or tablet or even mobile to be reading this on, but I'm just sitting at a desktop. And I really want to hold it in my hands, so I'm ordering a hard copy.