World Without Mind

World Without Mind

The Existential Threat Of Big Tech

Book - 2017
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A New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 2017

Franklin Foer reveals the existential threat posed by big tech, and in his brilliant polemic gives us the toolkit to fight their pervasive influence.

Over the past few decades there has been a revolution in terms of who controls knowledge and information. This rapid change has imperiled the way we think. Without pausing to consider the cost, the world has rushed to embrace the products and services of four titanic corporations. We shop with Amazon; socialize on Facebook; turn to Apple for entertainment; and rely on Google for information. These firms sell their efficiency and purport to make the world a better place, but what they have done instead is to enable an intoxicating level of daily convenience. As these companies have expanded, marketing themselves as champions of individuality and pluralism, their algorithms have pressed us into conformity and laid waste to privacy. They have produced an unstable and narrow culture of misinformation, and put us on a path to a world without private contemplation, autonomous thought, or solitary introspection--a world without mind. In order to restore our inner lives, we must avoid being coopted by these gigantic companies, and understand the ideas that underpin their success.

Elegantly tracing the intellectual history of computer science--from Descartes and the enlightenment to Alan Turing to Stuart Brand and the hippie origins of today's Silicon Valley--Foer exposes the dark underpinnings of our most idealistic dreams for technology. The corporate ambitions of Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon, he argues, are trampling longstanding liberal values, especially intellectual property and privacy. This is a nascent stage in the total automation and homogenization of social, political, and intellectual life. By reclaiming our private authority over how we intellectually engage with the world, we have the power to stem the tide.

At stake is nothing less than who we are, and what we will become. There have been monopolists in the past but today's corporate giants have far more nefarious aims. They're monopolists who want access to every facet of our identities and influence over every corner of our decision-making. Until now few have grasped the sheer scale of the threat. Foer explains not just the looming existential crisis but the imperative of resistance.

Named one of the best books of the year by The New York Times * L.A. Times * NPR
Publisher: New York :, Penguin Press,, 2017.
ISBN: 9781101981115
Characteristics: 257 pages ; 24 cm


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May 20, 2018

You know how you check out a book because the writer is someone who writes incredibly? And you read everything he's ever written in The Atlantic, for example? And you hear him on your book podcasts hawking his newest book and you are so excited to learn even more? That's what I did here.

Because it's not a quick memoir like I usually read in a day or two, I figured I'd just read the last chapter and maybe one or two others, simply to get the meat of his argument being that there's a lot of meat here and I'm not really THAT interested in digesting it. In fact, to expand the metaphor - you know where this is going - I'm almost vegan in my interest in existential threats particularly having to do with Big Tech. I'm nobody and nobody is calling me up asking me for my opinion on how to solve these problems, and in fact nobody even asks me in real life anything about this stuff because we're all kind of stupid when it comes to big problems with the ethics of big tech.

And you know where this is going, too, right? I read the last chapter first, in the first half hour of a five hour flight. Okay, I thought, that went quickly and I wasn't intimidated or bored or overwhelmed. So I read the introduction and the first chapter. Then the next and the next. Before the flight was over, I devoured the whole thing, meat and all. How did that happen?

I'm not the one to make an articulate argument about overarching ethical lapses in big tech and how they've shattered democracy, even after digesting all of it. I did have an interesting conversation with my son-in-law about these ideas, so that's something. But now I just feel stupid again, helpless, powerless, and kind of aware in a way I wasn't before. Listening to politicians talk about Facebook and privacy is a lot easier, that's for sure, and they sound even more ignorant than before I read this book. Some of them, anyway.

This is the best book I've read on this subject, evidenced by my reading it in one sitting all the way through, and I feel smarter and more aware. Franklin Foer is my favorite Foer. I'll read anything he writes. And maybe twice.

SquamishLibraryStaff Jan 02, 2018

Theft of intellectual property, the attempted murder of paper books and magazines, the loss of jobs to robots, evasion of taxes, the disrespect of privacy - these are just some of the things the big tech monopolies stand accused of in Franklin Foer's "World without mind".
An eye opening read about how the big four tech companies GAFA(Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) use and manipulate their users to reach their own end goals - whether this is collecting information about user behaviour to build AI that one day will exceed human intelligence or monopolizing the on-line marketplace.
A must read if you don't want to lose your mind online!

Dec 08, 2017

Well-written and passionately argued position that big tech companies (Facebook, Amazon and Google in particular) and the algorithms they're developing may be harming us and many of the institutions we need. Read this and join "The Paper Rebellion."

Nov 17, 2017

A timely reminder not to put too much trust in the algorithms that increasingly run the world and our personal lives. The most original sections are those dealing with publishing and journalism, where the author has personal experience and is open about his biases.

Sep 16, 2017


[Correction to author: Thorstein Veblen was NOT a sociologist, but one of the greatest economists who ever lived, probably the greatest. Recommend the book on him by Rick Tilman, The Intellectual Legacy of Thorstein Veblen - - outstanding!]
The way this author glosses over stuff reminds me of the effusive enthusiam of Fake Newsies for George Gilder during the Reagan Administration - - and not a single one ever mentioned that one important fact that Gilder was the adopted son of David Rockefeller!
Foer does cover several important - - albeit safe topics - - Thurman Arnold's excellent work during FDR's administration and his epochal work, The Folklore of Capitalism [should be mandatory reading for one and all] and the origin of the term // gatekeepers \\ as well as three excellent pages on Amazon and Bezos and tax evasion and avoidance, but thoroughly botches - - or spews disinformation - - with his recounting of the founding of the Washington Post.
He only lightly touches upon Larry Lessig in the negative - - Lessig attended quite a few of those Federalist Society lunches? On p. 169 Foer makes a most lucid and cogent comment on his discovery, but a real reporter or journalist would have exhibited curiousity and posed the obvious question: Does this just apply to book reviewing journalists, or does it equally apply to other occupations and jobs? ? ? [I personally would have tied it to the action of the largest temp agency back in 2003, Manpower, who closed 1,000 offices across America, while opening up over 900 offices in China.]
He glosses over Peter Thiel's success with Palantir - - which enjoyed three full years of CIA-financing thanks to Thiel's connections - - wonder what we'd discover if someone looks even closer at Thiel's other so-called successes???
Essentially, the author from the New America Foundation cherry picks his way through the book - - the same criticism I have leveled against ALL the books written by New America Foundation-affiliated authors.
When Steve Coll wrote about ExxonMobil, does he ever mention who owns it [majority shareholder]? No, of course not, none of those corporations are owned by anyone - - it's all a mirage according to the New America Foundation spinners!
I do recommend you read this interesting book - - there are several intelligent points made by the author [I counted three of them] - - just make sure your Spidey sense is in high gear.

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