World Without Mind by Franklin Foer is Illuminating

I’m always a sucker for any non-fiction polemic that rails against modern miracles, and World Without Mind fills that role well. The book’s excellent–an in-depth dive into the roots of the libertarian ideals seeded in early Silicon Valley and how those ideas grew in tandem with the burgeoning tech world to create a paradoxical world without mind. The endless freedoms presented by libertarianism led to an ideology of data-fat algorithms pushing us to keep scrolling, become angrier or stupider, and always, always watch more ads.

The book also draws on Franklin Foer’s time as editor-in-chief of The New Republic, a journal that rode the rollercoaster of the tech boom and busted spectacularly. While I appreciated the sections of the book focused on algorithms and data more than Foer’s TNR stint, his personal experience with the tech world from a journalistic standpoint added to the book in the form of some fascinating insights. Especially trenchant is how he reiterates how irresistible technology is, even as one who understands all the caveats: at one point Foer is given a metrics dashboard to oversee the magazine’s articles. The dashboard shows the readership of every piece written, and it’s easy to see where the money and consumer interest is. Despite the fact that Foer can instantly understand how these new incentives will pervert his editorial oversight and insight, he can’t resist the dashboard. He checks it when he wakes up, when he goes to bed, when he’s brushing his teeth.

If you’re a media observer like I am, this book will be relevant. If you’re a technophobic technophile like I am, then those early sections of the book will be fascinating. Those two threads of my media consumption/obsessions came together in this one, and it was a great read.