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July 31, 2014

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Book review: ‘Digital Vertigo’

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The Details

Digital Vertigo: How Today’s Online Social Revolution Is Dividing, Diminishing, and Disorienting Us
One stars
By Andrew Keen, $26

Andrew Keen hit it big with 2007’s The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet Is Killing Our Culture, an incredibly stupid but incredibly entertaining book. Keen’s new work, Digital Vertigo: How Today’s Online Social Revolution Is Dividing, Diminishing, and Disorienting Us, picks up where the last one left off … in the stupid department, at least.

Who does Keen select to speak on behalf of social media? The fictionalized version of ex-Facebook president Sean Parker, from Aaron Sorkin’s The Social Network, a movie that 1. portrays Facebook and social networking in an unfavorable light and 2. changes historic facts to do so. In other words, Keen is sparring with a straw man.

And yet Keen loses, by making melodramatic overstatements (“Today’s creeping tyranny of an ever-increasingly transparent social network that threatens the individual liberty, the happiness and, yes, perhaps even the very personality of contemporary man”), disrespecting his colleagues and combining quotes from smart people in an attempt to sound smart himself. He tops it all off with an off-base Holocaust analogy.

Actually, the real topper is the concluding “argument:” Keen wants to show that the “beauty of human intimacy” triumphs over the evils of social media. He “proves” this by pointing out that The King’s Speech beat The Social Network for Best Picture. That’s the final point he makes in this ostensibly academic book. Just awful.

Oh, and the font is too small.

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