The Twittering Machine by Richard Seymour

I’ve sprinkled references in the past few posts to a book I just finished reading, The Twittering Machine by Richard Seymour. The central thesis of the book is that we are all writing more than we ever have in history in the form of tweets, Facebook updates, texts, emails etc. Seymour contends, however, that we are not so much writing as being written by the platforms we use and that we all have a propensity for trolling and narcissism that tech companies exploit with a kind of algorithmic agnosticism.

Seymour chronicles the horrors of these platforms: the trolling, doxing, mob hate that we all, at this point, are familiar with. It’s hard to imagine anyone now coming to Mark Zuckerberg’s defense. But Seymour notes that this mass violence is nothing new and only breaks out thanks to pre-existing conditions, within all of us, that Silicon Valley exploits for a business model built on the unholy combination of gambling addiction psychology and mass surveillance.

Paul Klee, The Twittering Machine.

What separates Seymour’s book from others chronicling our current dystopia is a nuanced analysis of the crisis combined with a admonition not to fall into the simplistic “backlash” style of criticism of the sort I’ve been guilty of on this blog. Seymour says,

The backlash style, despite having the advantage that it disputes the inevitability of our assimilation into the Borg, is reactionary. It is compromised by a subtending fantasy that it could somehow be sufficient to exhort others to quit which is further underpinned by a fantasy that the frequent flights into mob irrationality, paranoia, nihilism and sadism characteristic of social media could be solved simply by ‘going back’. As though these phenomena had no deeper and father-reaching roots.

Seymour retells the often mis-reported history of the Luddites who were not opposed to technology, but instead against the ownership of the machines of production by the upper classes. He suggests that we need to develop a Neo-Luddite “escapology.” He leaves it to us to develop that alternative but implies that it might just an internet owned by all and stripped of exploitation and “gamified capitalism”–an internet that, in his words, leaves space for and encourages a sense of reverie, a stroll in the park with a pen and notepad or a quiet time in a church with our eyes closed. With Seymour’s nuanced and insightful analysis we might just be able to start mapping creative ways out of our predicament.

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