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June 15, 2024

“Just one word. Are you listening?” Mr Maguire to Ben Braddock In “The Graduate” (1967). “plastic.”

Twenty-five years later, a mischievous horn player warned me, a literature student who didn’t yet have an email address, that the future lay in something called a “hyperlink.”

Now, David B. Auerbach has a new jargon and a book for our rapidly changing times: “Meganets.”This is a word that sounds domineering. Some companies, including communication provider and Automatic sprinkler system, has been applied for. (I found this naturally on Google, where Auerbach was once hired by Google and Microsoft as a software engineer.) But his definition of a “meganet” is essentially a mass of mortals and computing power, a “human-machine behemoth” not controlled by anyone. If the internet is fictional doctor and scientist Bruce Banner, furtive and somewhat troubled but mostly benign, the Colossal Web is the Incredible Hulk, roaring and uncontrollable.

Regarding the competing concept of the Metaverse, the vision of an imminent, investable digital world that has been on everyone’s lips, especially Mark Zuckerberg’s, Auerbach hesitated, calling it “very vague.” And there’s nothing new about it. “Don’t we already socialize, play and work in a fully immersive online world?” he wrote. “That world might not be ‘The Matrix,’ but all the connected organizations already exist.”

Along with all the literature on “unplugging” or learning “how to do nothing,” as Jenny Odell titled her 2019 festoon bestseller, “Meganets” made me think about myself spending time on Instagram, Times on Reddit, TikTok and Twitter are deeply disturbed. not facebook, no way Facebook—what Auerbach calls a “fountain of misinformation,” a “Petri dish in which false facts and crazy theories grow, mutate, and transfer”—besides the one-off account I occasionally use to see what my ex was up to.

When my small “private” Instagram account was hacked by an enterprising Bitcoin entrepreneur in a faraway land last year, I was in full-blown panic – especially when an unnamed entity on Insta requested and declined After a series of slow-motion video selfies, even tilting my head to the ceiling, to verify my account.

Is this what validation addicts go through with withdrawal? No, let’s reframe: I’m trapped in a giant web (especially now that Facebook’s parent company Meta owns Insta): a middle-aged mermaid struggling in a giant online ocean with data floating around me like plankton same multiplied.

Generation Xers may also feel lost in Auerbach’s exhaustive chapter on cryptocurrencies. “Reality bites,” we naively thought, but here’s a “reality fork,” where the blockchain doubles itself like a caterpillar.

Auerbach is as familiar with literature and philosophy as he is in the cabin of an airplane, and he cites Kenneth Burke, George Trow and Shakespeare (in discussing the inability of artificial intelligence to determine the part of the Elizabethan play Arden of Faversham). authorship). “I have waited over five years for Amazon to notify me that Grigol Robakidze’s novel The Snake’s Skin is available,” he wrote, “presumably published in 2015”—this will be a reprint of the Georgian modernist classic from 1928, sounds really attractive — “But I never get notified because the book’s Amazon page is actually a tombstone for a book that never existed.”

According to his previous memoir, Bitwise, Auerbach first made it possible for Americans to type smileys into chats.If I responded to “Meganets” this way, it would be 😐, which can mask intermittent lack of understanding. It’s a very interesting book, but for the average “user”, that’s what the giant web does to readers and writers, and it’s sometimes hard to access. Fascinating is Google+’s failed experiment (remember those?), search indexing’s answer to Facebook, and more about Aadhaar, India’s national identity scheme: “a unified, government-sanctioned giant network,” Auerbach wrote. A “data abundance” chart showing how many messages are sent and how many photos are shared on various platforms every minute, presents life’s new intertwining with disturbing precision.

But trying to follow Auerbach’s description of a virtual epidemic called Corrupted Blood that spread through the video game World of Warcraft in 2005, he argues that “Corrupted Blood is closer to the global financial meltdown than you think.” Little,” the “user” felt trapped in a dark rec room with the hoodie pulled over my face. It’s like trying to solve captcha problems with various unknown motor vehicles. (why doesn’t it bloom?)

“Cloud” is a term that Auerbach found as vague as “metaverse,” but his own writing was rather vague — though it’s worth breaking the horizon once in a while; his own lightning bolt of philosophical insight.

“It doesn’t help that we look for where the power really is, when it’s nowhere—or everywhere at the same time.”

“If you don’t give people what they want, what do you give them?” (“They never know what they want,” Diana Vreeland would retort.)

And, alleviate this Orwellian hell in a biblical-sounding suggestion: “If Big Brother can’t be stopped, we should concentrate on throwing sand in his eyes instead of trying in vain to kill him.”

Please bring my Wi-Fi!


MEGANETS: How digital forces beyond our control dictate our daily lives and inner realitiesDavid B. Auerbach | Public Affairs | 339 pages | $30



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