- Hardcover: 368 pages
- Publisher: Verso (June 13, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 178478043X
- ISBN-13: 978-1784780432
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 23 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #49,247 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ $3.99 shipping
+ $3.99 shipping
+ $3.99 shipping
Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life Hardcover – June 13, 2017
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
“Adam Greenfield goes digging into the layers that constitute what we experience as smooth tech surface. He unsettles and repositions much of that smoothness. Radical Technologies is brilliant and scary”
−Saskia Sassen, Columbia University, author of Expulsions
“We exist within an ever-thickening web of technologies whose workings are increasingly opaque to us. In this illuminating and sometimes deeply disturbing book, Adam Greenfield explores how these systems work, how they synergize with each other, and the resultant effects on our societies, our politics, and our psyches. This is an essential book.”
“A tremendously intelligent and stylish book on the ‘colonization of everyday life by information processing’ calls for resistance to rule by the tech elite … a landmark primer and spur to more informed and effective opposition.”
—Steve Poole, Guardian (US)
“Does an excellent job of introducing non-specialist readers to some of the game-changing technologies that are transforming our lives and that are set to affect the social, economic, political and cultural evolution of humanity … a very valuable contribution to the discussion about what that future should look like.”
“A systematic analysis of the hazards posed by the most revolutionary of new technologies … his analyses are extremely proficient at uncovering the risks and contradictions that our enthusiasm for new technology has occluded … a vital counter-statement to such pervasive utopianism.”
About the Author
Previously a rock critic, bike messenger and psychological operations specialist in the US Army, Adam Greenfield spent over a decade working in the design and development of networked digital information technologies, as lead information architect for the Tokyo office of internet services consultancy Razorfish, Independent User-Experience Designer and Head of Design Direction for Service and User-Interface Design at Nokia headquarters in Helsinki.
Selected in 2013 as Senior Urban Fellow at the LSE Cities centre of the London School of Economics, he has taught in the Urban Design program of the Bartlett, University College London, and in New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program. His books include Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing, Urban Computing and Its Discontents, and the bestselling Against the Smart City.
Browse award-winning titles. See more
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
--Franco Berardi, The Soul at Work, p. 172
I open with this quote from Berardi, the Italian post-modern philosopher, because I was consistantly reminded of his work while reading Adam Greenfield’s Radical Technologies. Greenfield is not nearly so polemical or ideological. But both writers are honing in on the same topic: how technology is altering the human experience, all the way down to the level of perception, desire, and opinion.
But where Berardi tends towards the esoteric philosophical notion, Greenfield roots us into the concrete infrastructure of our subject. He tells us about our smartphones, every little piece of them. It’s almost annoying. But it isn’t annoying, because Greenfield has done his research, and he can situate each component of our technology in a context of exploitation, surveillance, and political economy. He tells us about the conditions of the factory workers, about how the “cobalt in its lithium-ion batteries was mined by hand in the Congo, often by children” (19). In short, Greenfield’s nerdy desire to deconstruct the particulars of our technological devices and networks is illuminating rather than overwhelming or obfuscating.
Greenfield’s descriptions of technology betray his fascination, dare I say admiration, for the stuff. He wants technology to be helpful, fun, benevolent, or so it seems. But the story just doesn’t add up that way, and after years of research he is clearly skeptical of the liberatory function of any technology. As he writes in the introduction, “these allegedly disruptive technologies leave existing modes of domination mostly intact, asking if they can ever truly be turned to liberatory ends” (8). It’s this constant skepticism that allows Greenfield to challenge some of the most prevalent and important assumptions about the utility of technology in our lives.
There are many topics in the book that deserve discussion, but for this review I will just focus in on one that is of particular interest to me. In chapter 7, Greenfield takes on the idea of a ‘post-work’ economy.
As someone who hates work, both personally and politically, I have always been drawn to the idea that we could eliminate the need to labor altogether, and spend our time making art, talking about our feelings, and going for long walks. There has been a good amount of scholarship on the topic, from technocrats, feminists, and many in-between. Of course, Greenfield rains on our parade.
“What I wish to argue is that whether they are brought together consciously or otherwise, large-scale data analysis, algorithmic management, machine-learning techniques, auto-
mation and robotics constitute a coherent set of techniques for the production of an experience I call the posthuman everyday. This is a milieu in which the rhythms we contend with, the ordi-
nary spaces we occupy, and the material and energetic flows we support are all shaped not so much by our own needs but those of the systems that nominally serve us, and in which human perception, scale and desire are no longer the primary yardsticks of value” (185).
In short: technology could eliminate work, but in whose favor, and at what cost? Greenfield cites the example of Japan’s rapidly advancing economy, where healthcare and farming, industries primarily worked by immigrant workers, are being automated. The choices made here (and Greenfield reminds us, “there are always choices”) reflect the racism and xenophobia of the larger society. Would these workers benefit from a Universal Basic Income that was designed to exclude non-citizens or people of the non-dominant ethnicity?
Greenfield problematizes the UBI. “Held up to sustained inspection, the UBI can often seem like little more than a neoliberal giveaway. Its proponents on the market right clearly anticipate it as a pretext to do away with existing benefits, siphoning whatever transfers are involved in it back into the economy as fees for a wide variety of educational, healthcare and family services that are now furnished via social provision” (204).
In an era where Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg are seen as leaders in the movement for a socialistic, technology driven future of moralized capitalism (both being proponents of the Universal Basic Income), we need people like Greenfield.
Greenfield’s book is a warning, a reminder that “very often the claimed benefits never do come to pass” (303). But it also a call to action, a reminder that no technology is inevitable, no outcome is unavoidable. We are players in this game. We can dream alternatives and resist new technologies.
I have recently read about a theory that is popular amongst the neoliberal technocracy. The idea is that since technology is exponentially growing, it will inevitably reach a point where we can simulate reality almost perfectly. Since this will inevitably happen, people will inevitably simulate many, many different realities. Thus, we are most likely in a simulated reality. You can read about it here.
After reading Greenfield’s book this theory appears to me not as a product of the imagination, but the failure of it.
I will end this quote-heavy review with a final quote, another from Berardi:
"Perhaps the answer is that it is necessary to slow down, finally giving up on economistic fanaticism and collectively rethink the true meaning of the word “wealth.” Wealth does not mean a person who owns a lot, but refers to someone who has enough time to enjoy what nature and human collaboration place within everyone’s reach. If the great majority of people could understand this basic notion, if they could be liberated from the competitive illusion that is impoverishing everyone’s life, the very foundations of capitalism, would start to crumble." (The Soul at Work, p. 169)
What makes me say that? I really liked Adam Greenfield's explanation of the technologies he looked at. In particular, he talks about machine learning, and he describes the technology in a balanced way that ignores neither its strengths nor its weaknesses. So what he says makes a lot of sense.
Like "Math Babe" Cathy O'Neil in her book Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, who Adam Greenfield cites, he points out that machine learning hides what it is doing in a black box. No one knows why machine learning makes the choices that it does. Laws could be violated. Moral principles breached. Machines don't have a conscience or a sense of justice. They just act.
Some high-profile people like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking worry about artificial intelligence harming humans at some point in the future. Adam Greenfield points out that the time to worry is already here. Amazon, which hosts this review, has adopted machine learning whole hog, and Jeff Bezos sang its praises in a recent letter to shareholders. He said nothing about its dangers, but those worry me.
Adam Greenfield covers a lot of ground in the book, and besides machine learning I thought his description of cryptocurrencies was quite good. There is a hint of a looming dystopian future brought on by these radical technologies, but mostly he raises warning flags rather than rail against them. Because of that, this is a helpful book rather than a partisan one.