The People Vs Tech | Jamie Bartlett

Summary of: The People Vs Tech: How the Internet Is Killing Democracy (and How We Save It)
By: Jamie Bartlett


In today’s technology-driven world, democracy faces numerous challenges. ‘The People Vs Tech: How the Internet Is Killing Democracy (and How We Save It)’ by Jamie Bartlett explores the threats that modern technology poses to the foundational pillars of democracy: active citizenship, shared democratic culture, equality, free association, free elections, and government authority. As we delve into an age of political tribalism, big data, artificial intelligence, and growing social inequality, this book seeks to understand the dire consequences we may face if these trends continue unchecked and offers suggestions on how we can update and adapt democracy to survive and thrive in the digital age.

The Six Pillars of Democracy

Democracy requires active participation and a shared culture of rational debate and compromise. It also demands equality, free association, free elections, and governmental authority. However, modern technology poses a potential threat to these pillars. In this book, the author examines how technology can undermine democracy and offers solutions to prevent its collapse.

The Erosion of Active Citizenship

Technology, personalization, data collection, and AI are significant threats to active citizenship. Social media, particularly, weakens political maturity, independence, and free thinking by encouraging self-censorship. We may witness a future dictated by AI’s influence on decision-making, posing an existential threat to active citizenship.

Active citizenship is necessary for democracy, but the increasing influence of technology, personalization, data collection, and artificial intelligence poses a significant challenge to it. This summary explains how technology weakens the attributes vital to active citizenship, such as political maturity, independence, and free-thinking. Social media platforms like Twitter, which exposes people to constant public scrutiny, encourages self-censorship, making citizens hesitant to express opinions that may be controversial.

Furthermore, the data collection techniques and processing algorithms of big data enable precisely targeted personalized ad campaigns. As a result, people will be manipulated into voting for specific candidates and making political decisions based on their interests, moods, and preferences. Artificial Intelligence, in the near future, may pose an even more significant challenge to active citizenship as it enhances decision-making processes. This outcome will lead to the adoption of decisions made by AI, decreasing human cognitive involvement in the process.

We need to pay attention to the erosive effects of technology, data collection, personalization, and AI on active citizenship. The more advanced technology becomes, the more critical it is to retain our political independence and free-thinking to preserve democracy’s core principles.

The Rise of Political Tribes

The internet has enabled the formation of political tribes by allowing people with specific grievances to cluster into smaller groups. Technology then reinforces these tribes by offering like-minded sources of information through algorithmic curation, making people more entrenched in their beliefs and less likely to communicate and cooperate, leading to political deadlock. The rise of political tribes has made people view others not in their tribe as enemies, seeking leaders who can protect them from supposed foes.

The Influence of Big Data on Free and Fair Elections

In today’s world, political parties are gaining an unprecedented ability to influence voters’ decision-making processes through big data. By collecting and analyzing data from people’s shopping habits, web browsing histories, and voting records, they target and communicate with sympathetic voters with increasing accuracy. For example, the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica helped the Trump campaign identify 13.5 million persuadable voters by analyzing their preference for US-made automobiles. With big data becoming gargantuan data, parties will need to outdo their rivals in leveraging big data, setting the stage for an ever-escalating technological arms race. The ability to collect data from new sources such as networked refrigerators only adds to the problem. This raises concerns about the freedom and fairness of elections where voters must be able to make up their minds without any undue influence.

The Barbell-like Future Economy

The rise of AI may result in the elimination of routine jobs, leaving only non-routine jobs. This shift will create a barbell-like economy with high-paying non-routine jobs and low-paying non-routine jobs. The resulting inequality will deepen social divisions, and democracy will suffer as it tears the middle class apart.

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