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Big Data
Caught in the Web

Franklin Foer’s new book warns that the tech titans now rule us all. Are they as threatening as all that?

Published on: December 14, 2017
Howard Schneider reviews books for newspapers and magazines.
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  • AnonymoussSoldier

    “Foer insists that the Times “remains the most excellent paper in the world.” …”Foer, a national correspondent for the Atlantic and the former editor of the New Republic, is a good writer, and very intelligent and insightful.”
    I disagree so strongly.
    The MSM, now colloquially called the Lamestream Media or Legacy Media, is losing to tech. Why? MSM has gotten it wrong, shown too much bias, and also lacks the ability to interact. The million dollar studio and anchors with capped teeth and hair plugs is almost over as it is. There are YouTubers with audiences of hundreds of thousands, and even millions, that are smarter, sharper, and better presenters than the legacy media. And you can interact with them!

    However, that’s not the end of the conversation. FB, Twitter, and Google/YouTube haven’t simply won and control the world now. There are real and viable alternatives to each of these sites on the clearnet, and the alternatives grow when someone gets the terrible idea at Google, FB, etc., to censor more of the content. Don’t forget the majority of the internet is not indexed by the major search engines. In fact, the net we’re on right now, with all of its content, is but a tiny fraction of the internet.

    Search engines are, in a sense, the pulse of the clearnet/surface web/regular internet. “Googling” has become a part of everyday speech and is even recognized by Merriam-Webster as a grammatically correct verb. It’s a common misconception, however, that Googling a search term will reveal every site out there that addresses your search. Typical search engines like Google, Yahoo, or Bing actually access only a tiny fraction (estimated at 0.05% – 0.1%) of [indexed] pages. The vast majority of content is not indexed by these engines, and in fact it resides in what’s called the Deep Web..basically meaning anything not indexed. The Deep Web and it’s truly enormous amount of content is not indexed by Google’s “web crawlers” for instant retrieval, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. It exists, largely uncensored, and it’s never been easier to find. As I’ve wrote on these threads before, I found more meaningful commentary and accurate predictions of the last election, for example, on these non-indexed sites.

  • Tom

    Excuse me while I play the world’s tiniest violin.
    The fact is that Foer’s primary complaint is not that Facebook, Google, and Amazon have become monopolies, but that they broke the monopoly that he and those like him had over the media/entertainment industries.
    Not all of the results of this have been good, of course–the fact is that yes, there is a lot of fake news being spread around on Facebook et. al. However, the other fact is that the media outlets whose loving arms Foer so desperately wants us to run back to lost their audiences because they lied by omission and commission, and the people who ran them lived in a hermetically sealed bubble as bad as that inhabited by the most partisan of Facebookers. Any book that doesn’t deal with this failure in talking about the rise of the digital giants frankly isn’t worth reading.

  • D4x

    My 2017 fantasy of an American news and analysis website uses the global news feed from AFP; with Lee Smith, Mollie Hemingway, Matthew Continetti, Brahma Chellaney reporting; George Friedman’s team at Geopolitical Futures; Victor Davis Hanson on the OP-ED page; Franklin Foer would be a good Managing Editor. I would be happy to pay for that news site. For now, I create it for free, using liveuamap for real time news linked to the point of origin on the map. Incredible way to follow international news.

    The internet first captured Help-Wanted classifieds. That was the beginning of the end of a free press in America, and the beginning of the end in anything resembling a free job market. If your CV did not get through the algorithms of the employer, you had no access.

    The other tragedy of the Digital Age is that too many thought leaders believed it really was a new Age in humanity’s progress, akin to agriculture to industrialization. The true economic boost was in the 1990’s, because of genuine productivity boosts in supply chain management, but nothing like the productivity boosts of 19th century rail transport, or electrification, which was huge for the 1920’s.

    Howard Schneider should feel “how painful Foer’s recounting” of Foer’s final years of The New Republic. “Founded in 1914 by major leaders of the Progressive Movement, it attempted to find a balance between a humanitarian progressivism and an intellectual scientism, ultimately discarding the latter. Through the 1980s and ’90s it incorporated elements of conservatism” That was when Marty Peretz owned TNR – it was a rare spot of iconoclasm, challenging the status quo of both wings of American politics. I started reading TNR in 2008, but gave up after Chris Hughes, Schneider’s “erstwhile Facebook VIP” turned it into an early adopter of Identity Politics, and even had the 2012 Obama campaign slogan icon on every webpage. Cancelled my subscription in 2012, when there was still The New Yorker and The Atlantic to look forward to, but those both lost their minds in 2016. In 2017, I rely on Singapore’s Straits Times, some of India’s online newspapers, and other English language foreign news sources. But, I have not looked forward to reading the news every morning since the NYT Business section lost it’s way when Louis Uchitelle retired in 2010.

    I’d also pay for a 24/7 Mozart channel.

  • FriendlyGoat

    Yes, the danger cannot be overstated. How do we know? The average childhood age for a smartphone is now 10.3—–leaving schools outmatched for kids’ attention. As bad or worse, the Moms not at work are on Facebook. There may be few left out of the “catch net” except the Amish and Old-Order Mennonites. When THAT many people are captured, we are captured.

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