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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: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,659,534 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 51 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 40 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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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Izaak VanGaalen on March 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book, as the title suggests, is about the negative and destructive aspects of the Internet. Many of us, even true believers, have always felt instinctively that it was not all good. From the outset it should be noted that cultural critic Lee Siegel is keenly aware of its power. He writes that "the Internet is possibly the most radical transformation of private and public life in the history of humankind." He likens the Internet to the automobile in the 1950's in that it is considered a symbol and an instrument of "freedom, democracy, choice, and access." It was not until the 1960's that the shortcomings and the dangers of the automobile were exposed by Ralph Nadar. Lee Siegel has taken it upon himself to be the Ralph Nadar of the Internet. Although we've heard many of his arguments before, he delivers them with a certain anger, a "rage against the machine."

Siegel opens his discussion with a scene in Starbucks where everyone is sitting speechless - if not on cellphone - in front of their laptops. Everyone is trying to achieve "connectivity" with the World Wide Web. What Siegel sees is disconnectedness and isolation. Social-networking sites, for example, are a contradiction in terms. They are asocial and atomizing. How can members of Facebook and MySpace have thousands of "friends." What are the consequences for real friendships? Siegel asks all the pertinent questions, even though he doesn't have all the answers.

Siegel has a special axe to grind with Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point. He charges that Gladwell has made popularity the sole criterion for success. The Internet is keeping us at the level of high school, where popularity or "page views" is more important than originality or creativity.
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