Archive for jeremy bentham

Digital Vertigo

Posted in Book Reviews with tags , , , on May 22, 2012 by Bradley Hall

I just finished reading Digital Vertigo, the latest book by Andrew Keen. If I recall, it has been nearly five years since his last book, The Cult of the Amateur.

His target in his first book was Web 2.0 which was the user generated content of blogs, Wikipedia, YouTube, and the like. For this new book, he targets the Web 3.0 universe of social media. He lists more social media sites and apps and things than I have ever heard of.

MySpace, Facebook, Google+, SocialEyes, Twitter, Klout, Kred, LiveJournal, Blippy, BeKnown, BeWithMe, Flavor.Me,, and a whole host of other widely and lesser known social media things that offer a social solution for everything.

Keen focuses the narrative around the 19th century philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, who he happened to “meet” in London’s University College over 170 years after Bentham’s death. How? Bentham bequeathed his body to the college and that it always be on display in a wooden and glass case he called an “Auto-Icon” which he translated as “A man that is his own image.”

While ruminating on this dead man, Keen began thinking that everyone is now their own Auto-Icon as they keep up their public image on Facebook, Twitter, and every other Web 3.0 site and app and whatever else there is.

The Internet has become, what Bentham called, an Inspection House, a panopticon. Essentially a prison constructed in such a way that an observer is able to see all of the inmates, yet none of the inmates know they are being watched.

Keen applied this idea of being always watched, but not knowing it to Web 3.0, except, that’s not the case at all. Everyone on Facebook, etc know that they’re being watched, that the all important Like button is the thing they crave attention from. The funnier, goofier, most Kony2012-like thing they can come up with will generate more likes, more shares, and a higher Klout score, as well as more people who want to read what you say.

In this way, Facebook, Twitter, and company have become everyone’s personal echo chamber, one person says something or posts a picture, and then it gets shot halfway around the world in several seconds as people keep liking and sharing and commenting on it.

Many of these websites are supported with advertising dollars. Facebook displays ads, other sites do too. One thing I have always wondered about this is there’s a finite number of dollars in the world. Every time someone creates a new site or thing that needs advertising to support it, that’s less money used to advertise on something else. Eventually there’s going to be a stopping point where there is no one left who can spare the money to advertise on every new venture.

Actually, that might be happening now. GM recently announced that it will be stopping its online advertising in Facebook, as they have found it does not motivate people to go buy a new Chevrolet or Cadillac.

One thing I am interested in seeing is what will happen when people from today’s connected age start running for public office, or even the presidency? Their every Tweet, forum post, Facebook update, possibly even every meal they ate will be available for public scrutiny online on some corner of the Internet.

If you really want to protect your privacy online, then the best thing to do is to not post anything online at all.

The Internet does not forgive and it does not forget.

In all, I really enjoyed this book and had been looking forward to it for quite a while. We all live in public now. All of us. Several times each year, the news reminds us of that fact as members of the nameless, faceless masses make a post or a video or do something online that for better or worse gains them a little bit of notoriety. The world is watching.