Social media satire The Circle made you scared about the screens that have enslaved us. Now Andrew Keen’s polemic against the winner-takes-all Web 2.0 will make you angry. It’s a smart, concise exploration of the impact of new technology, but also a howl of rage at the digital disruptors relishing the havoc they have caused. “Failure is success” is the bizarre, Orwellian mantra of the Silicon Valley innovators – and big failure followed by bigger success is the story of Travis Kalanick. He likes to boast that he was sued for a quarter of a trillion dollars by the world’s entertainment companies over his peer-to-peer service Scour. Ultimately, it may have failed but – along with Napster – not before laying waste to the music industry. Now he’s unleashed Uber, a taxi app that’s prompted protests from traditional taxi drivers around the world.
Perhaps that’s just progress. But consider Instagram, which sold to Facebook for a billion dollars when it had 13-full time employees. Around the same time, Kodak was closing 13 factories and 130 photo labs and laying off 47,000 workers. Last year Facebook forked out $19 billion for WhatsApp, which had 55 employees. These are the frightening numbers behind the job-killing digital economy. And those internet giants that do recruit an army of coders to their cults pay hardly any tax and contribute little to the local economy. Keen’s particularly scathing on the segregation in San Francisco (and he’s found an ally in Rebecca Solnit), where the digital overlords travel to work in private buses and never have to leave their plush office complexes. There are plenty more villains – and a few heroes – in this history of the internet. He compares Google with the Stasi, rails against the oddball libertarians who became billionaires and rubbishes the long tail theory, which claims that any creative person can make a living thanks to the reach of the Web (mid-list authors are actually disappearing). As William Gibson said: “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”