Book club review: The Death of the Gods, by Carl Miller
It won't come as much of a surprise to you that technology is changing society in significant ways. In 'The Death of the Gods' Carl Miller explains just how profound these changes are, but this isn't a book about technology per se - Miller's unique slant is to examine the impact of technology on society in terms of power.
The new gods, whether it's the handful of billionaire 'founders' who rule Silicon Valley or the cabal who can hard fork a cryptocurrency, have been able to wield their power without examination, sometimes without fully realising the consequences themselves. Would Zuckerberg have wanted his platform to contribute to winning Trump the presidency? I suspect not, but the power is his nonetheless.
Chapter by chapter, Miller examines how technology is transforming traditional power structures in fields such as business, warfare, crime and politics. In every instance the examples he gives are familiar, and yet the implications are still shocking. By concentrating on power, rather than the technologies themselves, Miller helps to clarify just how seismic the shift we're living through is, and how many unintended consequences we may be faced with. One example is the diminished power of shareholders relative to super-powerful founders such as Jeff Bezos.
Way back in 2001, in the early days of the digital revolution, I read a book entitled 'Crypto Anarchy, Cyberstates, and Pirate utopias'. It focused on the potential offerred by the combination of digital networks and easily available strong cyptography to allow people to create online communities outside of the control of traditional states (for good or ill). Miller shows that this was partially true, in particular the more lawless parts of the internet such as 4chan and the dark web, but ultimately the promise of crypto anarchy has not been fulfilled. We've chosen the convenience of new gods over freedom.
We really enjoyed 'The Death of the Gods', and found it important. What was less clear to us, and perhaps to Miller himself, is the answer to the question "So what?". What next? What should we be doing? One answer comes down to education and personal responsibility for control over how much information we share and for keeping ourselves secure. Reading this book is a good starting point.
Here are some of our book club members' reviews:
"A thought provoking look at the impact of technology on the dynamics of power in the world, how power has shifted and continues to do so."
"An eye-opening, at times scary, account of the changing world. Very thought provoking on how we react to the perhaps increasingly limiting options available."
"An important book that exposes the connections between technology and power, in all its forms. Terrifying, but also hopeful, if we inform ourselves."
"An insightful read that makes you think about the rapid development with digital media and the online world. The content is imncredibly eye-opening at times and you question how far the information age could progress."
"Both fascinating and terrifying in equal measures! A must read!"
"Able to bring focus to the large blur that is how we use and are affected by modern technology. The Death of the Gods highlights the fragility of data, but also how it has the capability to change almost every aspect of life."
"A thought provoking and interesting read. Bringing tangible and interesting examples on the impact of digitalisation, questioning the current status quo."
"Good read. Didn't include any ground-breaking new conclusions, but what it did do was provide insight into how the onward march of technology is changing all aspects of modern life with little regulation or oversight."