Why the digital revolution is disappointing us

Andrew Keen, author How to Fix the Future, talked with TechRepublic's Dan Patterson about why the internet, social media, and tech in general are not living up to their promises.

Why the internet and social media are broken

Recently, TechRepublic's Dan Patterson spoke with Andrew Keen, author of the book How to Fix the Future, about understanding technology's impact on the world today, and preparing for its impact in the future. Here's part of their conversation.

Dan Patterson: Andrew Keen. You are the author of How to Fix the Future. Before we understand the future and how to fix it, let's talk about the problem. Andrew, let's say I use the internet. I use social media. It works for me. What's wrong with that?

Andrew Keen: No, there's nothing wrong with that. That's not the problem with the future. The problem with the digital revolution is it's disappointing us. We were promised more equality, more opportunity, more transparency and actually what we're seeing is a more opaque culture, surveillance capitalism, inequality, looming threats of long-term technological unemployment and a cultural crisis of narcissism and inanity. That's got nothing to do with whether or not you use social media or whether you check your email. That's neither here nor there.

SEE: Inside Amazon's clickworker platform: How half a million people are being paid pennies to train AI (PDF download) (TechRepublic cover story)

Dan Patterson: All of those things are indeed problems. But we can probably tie those same problems to every type of technological innovation and certainly every type of media innovation. The word narcissism has been used with media, magazines and newspapers for a long time. What particular about the internet age is different than historical technologies?

Andrew Keen: Great question, Dan. Not very much. Where there's nothing unique about this, one of the delusions of Silicon Valley and sort of a general tech evangelism in America. And Silicon Valley in particular has this idea this is the first time we've ever lived through this. You're absolutely right. This is a massive revolution but it's happened before in human history. It certainly happened in the Industrial Age. And the disruption, the idea that the feeling of powerlessness, the alienation, the atomization, the confusion. These are familiar things in history. And in my book, I do indeed compare the early 21st century, not only to the mid-19th century and the disruption, the chaos of the Industrial Revolution but also the chaos of other great transformative periods, like the Reformation and the Renaissance in 16th century Europe. Nothing very different.

Dan Patterson: Where did these problems arise? How did we get here?

Andrew Keen: We got here because Gordon Moore's Law--Gordon Moore being, of course, the co-founder of Intel--came up with his idea that computer chips would double every 18 months, is racing ahead of human beings. It's happening faster around us and we don't have the time to adapt, so we're feeling sort of vertiginous. We are feeling dizzy in time of dramatic change. We're not able to keep up with the technology or the companies that are changing the world.

Also see

Image: iStock/spainter_vfx