We have now in twenty years moved half the world’s population, give or take, to one city. And we all live in one city. And we keep walking out into the street and getting pasted by trams. And we don’t even understand what the trams are. We not only do not know how to live together online, we don’t even really understand that it’s a problem.
In a book that I wrote in 2011, on page one I said that unless the insecurities, and the fears, and the aspirations of the precariat were addressed as a matter of urgency, we would see the emergence of a political monster. You will not be surprised that in November 2016 I received a lot of emails from around the world from people who said, “The monster has arrived.”
So here’s what happened. If you tell people you’re going to have this super-open, absolutely non-commercial, money-free thing, but it has to survive in this environment that’s based on money, where it has to make money, how does anybody square that circle? How does anybody do anything? And so companies like Google that came along, in my view were backed into a corner. There was exactly one business plan available to them, which was advertising.
We’ve got two paradoxical trends happening at the same time. The first is what I call in my book “the cult of the social,” the idea that on the network, everything has to be social and that the more you reveal about yourself the better off you are. So if your friends could know what your musical taste is, where you live, what you’re wearing, what you’re thinking, that’s a good thing, this cult of sharing. So that’s one thing that’s going on. And the other thing is an increasingly radicalized individualism of contemporary, particularly digital, life. And these things seem to sort of coexist, which is paradoxical and it’s something that I try to make sense of in my book.