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Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob Hardcover – January 22, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Siegel, a controversial former blogger and past art critic, provides a fascinating look at how the Internet is reshaping the way we think about ourselves and the world. Siegel explores how the Internet affects culture and social life, particularly the psychological, emotional and social cost of high-tech solitude. Arguing that the Internet's widespread anonymity eliminates boundaries, Siegel discusses the half-fantasy, half-realism of online personas. Internet pornography, Siegel intones, collapses public and private, transforming others into the instrument of the viewer's will. By experiencing virtual selves rather than other individuals, a danger arises: people run the risk of being reduced to personas that other Internet users manipulate toward their own ends. Insightful and well written with convincing evidence to support Siegel's polemic, this book is a welcome addition to the debate on the personal ramifications of living in a wired world. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Acclaim for Lee Siegel

“Mr. Siegel is a zigzagging cultural omnivore…a confrontational enthusiast… an expert demolisher of critical group-think.”
--New York Observer

“One of the country’s most eloquent and acid-tongued cultural critics.”
-Deborah Solomon, New York Times

“To read him is to be reminded of what criticism used to aspire to in terms of range, learning, high standards, and good writing and--dare one say it?--values.”
-- David Rieff

“Savor his vigorous prose, and prepare to be surprised.”
--Pete Hamill

“In every case, Siegel is wildly and satisfyingly unpredictable.”
--Janet Malcolm

"One of the heroic few."
-- The Guardian

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 182 pages
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau (January 22, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385522657
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385522656
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,759,802 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Roy E. Perry on February 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
In Against the Machine, Lee Siegel has written a devastating critique of the Internet--its destructive side and how it is adversely reshaping our thoughts about ourselves, other people, and the world around us.

In "Thus Spoke Zarathustra," the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote: "Alas, the time of the most despicable man is coming. The earth has become small, and on it hops the last man, who makes everything small. His race is as ineradicable as the flea, Everybody wants the same, everybody is the same: whoever feels different goes voluntarily into a madhouse. . . . 'We have invented happiness,' say the last men, and they blink."

Siegel believes this "brave new world" is now: On the Internet, he asserts, "you must sound more like everyone else than anyone else is able to sound like everyone else." Such a vapid transvaluation of values, he asserts, has disastrous effects on our culture, our politics, and our psyches.

The Internet, says Siegel, creates a surreal virtual reality "where the rhetoric of democracy, freedom, and access is often a fig leaf for antidemocratic and coercive rhetoric; where commercial ambitions dress up in the sheep's clothing of humanistic values; and were, ironically, technology has turned back the clock from disinterested enjoyment of high and popular art to a primitive culture of crude, grasping self-interest."

In this strange, upside-down world, talent, expertise, and originality have been replaced by popularity, genuine knowledge has been crowded out by information overload, and true democracy has been undermined by the creation of solipsistic egos isolated from social and political structures and vulnerable to demagogic lies and deceit.
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34 of 42 people found the following review helpful By TSP on January 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover
What are the impacts of Internet technologies on culture and sociality? This weighty and timely question is the one this book attempts to address, but it falls short of being a considered, balanced and serious examination of this topic.

The overall tone of this book by disgraced former New Republic editor and blogger Lee Siegel is of a personal critique against the twinning of digital environments and commerce. Some of its best points are made when Siegel demonstrates his capacity to think deeply on the issues he is concerned about. Sadly, these parts of the book are rare and for this reason, among others, this book is not for use by serious scholars of digital ontology or of the consequences of the digitization of human life.

The book raises interesting points about the performance of privacy online, the rise of the importance of information for its own sake and the popularity contest that is the blogosphere. However, the often snarky tone and rather blatant one-sided presentations leech Mr. Siegel's arguments of their ability to make a difference in the discourse of what the Internet's impacts are now and for the future. The most egregious problem the book has is its reification of its topic center. Mr. Siegel writes about "The Internet" as if the global digital network were a single person, with independent volition and agency. He blames the Internet for several consequences of 21st century life, forgetting as he does so that the larger western culture is the real root and agent of those issues.
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27 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Seeker of Truth on December 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book is a quick read - sadly, that is its only virtue. It was a good idea, to examine the hazards of becoming a society of entertainment consumers and not a society of producers and creative thinkers. Mr. Siegel's real argument seems to be with capitalism itself, but most of his criticism in Against the Machine is directed at those who make money via the Internet. Mr. Siegel makes a lot of claims in this book, but effective claims need the support of evidence, and the author has little more than anecdotal evidence based on his own limited observations. He rambles considerably and, at times, his claims are completely outlandish. Examples:
* He gets off to a bad start in the introduction, where he points out that motor vehicle fatalities in the 1960s reached 50,000 per year, but that "people stopped dying on the road in staggering numbers" when automakers became "safety-conscious." Except that in 2007, over 41,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes. How is 50,000 deaths "staggering" but 41,000 acceptable?
* Mr. Siegel writes, "Ten years ago, the space in a coffeehouse abounded in experience. Now that social space has been contracted into isolated points of wanting..." I'm not sure where the author hangs out, but my local cafes and restaurants practically roar with the sound of conversation.
* The author makes considerable criticism of Bill Gates. He conveniently avoids mentioning the thousands of lives that have been saved through the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
* Mr. Siegel hates the distribution of pornography online. Fair enough, I'm not wild about it either. But he makes a simplistic argument that avoids First Amendment complexities. He also brazenly writes, "...
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