Against the Machine by Lee Siegel

This is a little different than the books we usually feature here but is worth taking a look at. The internet has changed out culture, our communication and our commerce in a great many ways. Are they all good? Are they all bad? Are they either? Is the internet a curse, a blessing or an amoral conduit to be used by anyone for any purpose they wish?

In Against the Machine Lee Siegel explores the cultural impact of the internet. While Siegel allows for the benefits of the internet he is mostly critical of it in this book. His first criticism is that anyone who dares criticize the internet is labeled as some kind of Luddite who is afraid of change and the future. There is certainly some truth in that observation although many writers have been critical of the internet and aspects of it.

Siegel goes on to criticize the commercial dominance of the internet declaring that it has made “prosumers” of us all – people who produce and consume at the same time on the internet for chiefly commercial purposes and serving primarily commercial interests. He assumes that is an evil thing.

He sees the internet as largely the enemy of high culture because anyone can do anything and be anything on the internet or try to. There are few if any standards and no one policing what happens. Bloggers with no skill or genuine claim to expertise can dominate discussions and threaten the success of a true artist or writer.

Siegel finds the mass of millions of bloggers, many semi-literate at best, to be a degradation of the art and science of principled journalism. He sees a lack of ethics, a lack of standards, a lack of quality control. Whoever shouts the loudest often dominates. Instead of a discussion supervised by people of talent and principle he sees a mass of bullies and popularity gluttons.

In fact one of his largest criticisms of the internet and much of the culture it has fostered is the replacement of genuine talent and accomplishment with a high school like popularity contest. From American Idol to the latest political blogger the aim is to gain “votes” or page views or attention – not to recognize genuine talent and quality.

To be sure Siegel at times is whiny and despises the democratization of the internet and its free wheeling freedom because of the price he thinks we pay for this. At other times the contrasts he claims that exist between pre-internet culture and internet culture seem strained if not downright wrong.

However many of his observations do have merit and are worth consideration. What Siegel never tells us is how to preserve the access and freedom of the internet while discouraging some of its lesser attributes. One suspects he thinks that there are cultural policemen who should be controlling access and content in search of some cultural ideal – but we never see the way he thinks it ought to be, only how terrible he finds it.

The internet has become a powerful part of our culture and communication. It is always worthwhile to stand back and examine where we have come and what we have wrought but in the end criticism without a constructive alternative adds little to the conversation. This book is worth reading to stimulate thought about what surely are some negative aspects of the internet culture, or the lack of it as Siegel might say. He does however leave us wondering, after all the moaning and groaning is done, what are we left with? Where do we go from here. You wont find that answer in this book, but you will find some stimulating questions and observations worth thinking about.

Wishing you Success and Prosperity,

Daniel R. Murphy

Wishing you well,

Daniel R. Murphy
Educating people for building wealth, adapting to a changing future and personal development.