James Bridle’s book shines a light into the New Dark Age


Have you ever been to a movie that surprised you? Having seen the trailer and watched past movies from the same producer, you assumed that you knew what was going to happen. That is the experience I had with James Bridle’s new book New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future
.

When I read the title, I expected a book describing the coming collapse of Western civilisation. The problem is that this crash is already upon us. Whether it be the breakdown of infrastructure, Eroom’s Law, the unreliability of images and the rise of machine learning algorithms, the darkness is already here.

This book is less about the actual technologies at play and more about their impact on society. It is what Ursula Franklin describes as ‘technology as a system.’ Bridle’s focus is on new ways of thinking about, through and with technology.

In light of the recent revelations around Cambridge Analytica and GDPR, I recently reflected upon the importance of informed consent. I argued that we have a responsibility to:

  • Critically reflect and ask questions
  • Learn from and through others
  • Engage in new challenges

Bridle’s book starts this journey by actively informing us. He then puts forward the challenge of what next.

There is a kind of shame in speaking about the exigencies of the present, and a deep vulnerability, but it must not stop us thinking. We cannot fail each other now.

Although the book offers more questions than answers, it does it in a way that left me feeling somehow hopeful. Whether you are coming from the perspective of culture, education or politics, this book is a must read for anyone feeling at all dissatisfied with the current state of the world today.


For a different introduction, listen to an interview with Bridle on The Guardian:


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REVIEW: New Dark Age – Technology and the End of the Future by Aaron Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

14 thoughts on “REVIEW: New Dark Age – Technology and the End of the Future

  1. James Bridle explores the changes in the environment in New Dark Age. He discusses the melting of the caps and the ramifications this has on the rest of the world. What was of particular interest was the ramification for and of technology.

  2. I thought that it was just me with the strange feeling like I am being listened too. Really disconcerting that instead they are capturing images. This is a worry on multiple levels. That any semblance of privacy has seemingly left the building, but also the waste associated with collecting such data.
    I am reminded of the discussion of a big data tax mentioned in Sabeel Rahman’s post The New Octopus. James Bridle also talks about the ‘Age of the Image’ in the New Dark Age:

    As digital culture becomes faster, higher bandwidth, and more image-based, it also becomes more costly and destructive – both literally and figuratively. It requires more input and energy, and affirms the supremacy of the image – the visual representation of data – as the representation of the world.

  3. James Bridle takes a dive into the algorithmic nightmares lurking within YouTube. This is taken from his book and elaborates on a post he wrote exploring the topic. He ends with an explanation that this is a problem that we all must grapple with:

    The thing, though, I think most about these systems is that this isn’t, as I hope I’ve explained, really about YouTube. It’s about everything. These issues of accountability and agency, of opacity and complexity, of the violence and exploitation that inherently results from the concentration of power in a few hands — these are much, much larger issues. And they’re issues not just of YouTube and not just of technology in general, and they’re not even new. They’ve been with us for ages. But we finally built this system, this global system, the internet, that’s actually showing them to us in this extraordinary way, making them undeniable. Technology has this extraordinary capacity to both instantiate and continue all of our most extraordinary, often hidden desires and biases and encoding them into the world, but it also writes them down so that we can see them, so that we can’t pretend they don’t exist anymore. We need to stop thinking about technology as a solution to all of our problems, but think of it as a guide to what those problems actually are, so we can start thinking about them properly and start to address them.

    via collect.readwriterespond.com

  4. Dai, I was interested in your discussion of James Bridle’s book. I agree Dai with your concern about such a dystopian portrayal. That was something that I tried to get across in my post on becoming informed. Is the answer that it takes a range of voices to get to this stage?
    With this in mind I am intrigued by the video you mention from Vox featuring Tristan Harris:

    I liked his suggestions, but for me it is like going to McDonald’s to buy a salad. The issue is not the salad, but McDonald’s and their push for non-human consumption. I wonder about a sustainable smartphone, one that is built ethically from the outset, not one that puts the blame back on the user. As Audrey Watters argues:

    I don’t want to suggest that this is something the consumer alone is responsible for – blaming consumers, for example, for looking at their phone when it vibrates or beeps or for downloading Candy Crush and trying to get all their friends to play along. The whole modus operandi of the tech industry has been to create apps that are as engaging and compelling and viral as Candy Crush. The industry views its users as highly manipulable, their behaviors as something that can be easily shaped and nudged and controlled. Maybe it’s time to rethink and regulate and restrict how that happens?

    Discussing the work of Harris the other such apologists, Watters asks why we should trust them:

    Why should we trust these revelations (or revelators) to guide us moving forward? Why not trust those of us who knew it was bullshit all along and who can tell you the whole history of a bad idea?

    I wonder then why we should trust Harris over Bridle and wonder whether in the end they both have a particular place at the table?

    via collect.readwriterespond.com

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