The People Vs Tech Book Summary - The People Vs Tech Book explained in key points
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The People Vs Tech summary

Jamie Bartlett

How the Internet is Killing Democracy (And How We Save It)

4.6 (55 ratings)
26 mins

Brief summary

The People Vs Tech by Jamie Bartlett explores the dangers of unbridled tech, reminding readers that democracy, privacy and human values are at stake.

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    The People Vs Tech
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    Democracy requires active, amicable, equal, and free participation from its citizens.

    What would happen if a democracy held a national election and no one bothered to debate the issues, inform themselves about policy proposals, or even vote on the candidates? It would be as if you threw a party and no one showed up: hardly a party – or, in this case, a democracy – at all. 

    Like a party, democracy requires people’s active participation – and the more active the participation, the more robust the result. With democracy, active participation entails sifting through claims, weighing facts, and making decisions on who or what the best candidate or course of action is. Active citizenship is the first of the six pillars on which democracy rests. 

    Now, let’s say people show up to your party and are actively participating. So far, so good – but what happens if they start getting rowdy? Well, eventually, the party might turn into a riot.

    The same goes for democracy. For it to work, citizens must not only actively participate, but do so in particular ways – two of which are to engage in rational debate and to compromise. This shared democratic culture, which enables people to amicably work through their differences and move forward together, is the second pillar.

    Now, let’s say you throw a party and a couple of loudmouthed attendees dominate all of the conversations, undermining other people’s abilities to participate in the process. That won’t work either – everyone needs to be able to participate equally and freely. The same goes for democracy. For it to work, citizens must be on a more or less equal footing, be able to talk to each other, and vote on issues and candidates without interference. These attributes comprise the third, fourth, and fifth pillars: equality, free association, and free elections. 

    Finally, returning to the party analogy one last time – who’s going to look after the gathering to steer people in the right direction and encourage them to participate actively, amicably, equally, and freely? Well, you – the host. Similarly, the government’s job is to ensure that citizens participate in democracy. And to do this job, the government needs power. That’s the sixth pillar: governmental authority. 

    Unfortunately, modern technology poses a threat to all six of these pillars of democracy. In the following blinks, we’ll see how it’s doing that. Then, we’ll look at what might happen if these pillars collapse, and how this can be avoided.

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    What is The People Vs Tech about?

    The People Vs Tech (2018) examines the rise of digital technology. It argues this process is undermining six of the key pillars of democracy: active citizenship, a shared democratic culture, free elections, free association, equality, and governmental authority. Looking to the future and observing how it is already unfolding in the present, it paints a chilling picture of the possible dystopian world to come. However, it also shows the paths that are leading us to that world and suggests that these paths can be redirected, pointing the way to a better future.

    Best quote from The People Vs Tech

    The Holy Grail for the social media giants … is to understand you better than you understand yourself.

    —Jamie Bartlett
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    Who should read The People Vs Tech?

    • Citizens concerned about how the internet is impacting society 
    • Workers who fear their jobs may be replaced by AI
    • Fans of dystopian science fiction literature, movies, and television series

    About the Author

    Jamie Bartlett is the Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media (CASM) at Demos – a UK-based think tank that focuses on developing evidence-based solutions to inform social policy. Writing on technology as a regular contributor to publications such as the Spectator and the Telegraph, Bartlett is also the bestselling author of The Dark Net and Radicals Chasing Utopia: Inside the Rogue Movements Trying Change the World.

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