Our Digital World

Technological developments over the past 50 years have transformed human life like nothing before. Computers have revolutionized every aspect of life in the 21st century: communication, social relationships, commerce, politics—even creativity. These changes are only accelerating, so it is critical that we do our best to understand—and control—them. 

  • Viral Ideas

  • The Pandemic and Misinformation

    We are in the midst of the greatest revolution in communication technology since humanity spread across the globe, exceeding in scope and impact the printing press. However, experts in the fields of media, journalism, and communications have been warning us for years that social media is using us more than we are using it.

  • Reality Distortion and Information Warfare

    We have created a world in which information flows more freely and efficiently than ever before and yet we are finding it harder to understand one another and to agree on basic facts about reality. It is natural for people to disagree on important issues, but social media magnifies the political, cultural, and ethnic divisions within our societies, almost as if they were designed to do so.

  • Origins of Fragmentation

    In their book, The Axemaker’s Gift, James Burke and Robert Ornstein have shown us that every tool or technology we invented, from the hand axe chipped out of stone to the printing press, took on a life of its own. Each gift changed humanity in ways that were neither suspected nor predicted by the axemakers and their delighted recipients.

  • The Science of Fake News

    The amount of false news online is clearly increasing, with serious consequences. It can drive the misallocation of resources during terror attacks and natural disasters, the misalignment of business investments, and misinformed elections.

  • The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power

    It has been a little over two decades since an obscure digital systems architecture known as the Internet, intimated itself, almost innocuously, into our lives. In that time scarcely a day goes by, or even hours, when most of us aren’t engaged in some form of online activity.

  • On Tyranny

    It is not the ordinary that excites and drives us, but our emotions, especially fear and greed. To focus such drives, we look to a leader, and leaders often manipulate these emotions and our tribal instincts to harness us against some demonized “other”—like the Jew for the Nazis; the Rwandan Tutsi for the Hutus; or people of color for White Supremacists.

  • The True Believer

    Tyranny cannot rise by force alone. A tyrant needs the consent of the majority made compliant and enthusiastic by circumstance, attitude, and indoctrination. But understanding these mechanisms can help us avoid such manipulation.

  • Mr. Putin, Operative in the Kremlin

    For those of us in the democratic West, the rise of authoritarianism in countries like the USA and Hungary has come as a nasty surprise, one that is difficult to accept. Though if we were to look back over the history of dictatorship in the past hundred years, we should not be surprised.

  • Taming the Web

  • The Evolution of Social Networking

    To understand what is happening right now we need understand how the world wide web has changed from when it was first invented by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989. The transition from then to now has been made possible by the pervasive use of computer algorithms.

  • What Is an Algorithm?

    In its simplest form an algorithm is any set of steps that, if followed, will accomplish a goal. For instance, a recipe is an algorithm that a human follows to make a meal.

  • Social Networks

  • The Great Attention Heist

    Recent revelations by IT professionals and social media executives confirm that their products were intentionally designed to “consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible.”

  • The Marketplace of Ideas

    Social networks, the ones we have belonged to ever since we ventured out of the trees and onto the savannah, have always been our most important source of information.

  • Algorithmic Gatekeepers

    What happens when the social media algorithms become the gatekeepers of our information ecosystem?

  • Hacking Human Minds

    Anything that repeats a falsehood, even if it includes a rebuttal, amplifies and spreads the falsehood. It is not just the trending algorithms that are gamed by propaganda but our own minds.

  • You Can’t Not Believe Everything You Read

    Anything that repeats a falsehood, even if it includes a rebuttal, amplifies and spreads the falsehood. It is not just the trending algorithms that are gamed by propaganda but our own minds.

  • The Anxious Generation

    In The Anxious Generation, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt focuses on the alarming rise in teen mental illness that has swept across many countries in recent years, specifically affecting Gen Z (those born in 1995 and later).

  • Reclaiming the Public Square

    Democracy and human rights depend on a healthy information ecosystem, and we cannot depend on tech companies alone to act as the arbiters of truth.

The Anxious Generation

How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness

An essential investigation into the collapse of youth mental health—and a plan for a healthier, freer childhood.

By Jonathan Haidt (2024)

On Tyranny

Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

Timothy Snyder

It is not the ordinary that excites and drives us, but our emotions, especially fear and greed. To focus such drives, we look to a leader, and leaders often manipulate these emotions and our tribal instincts to harness us against some demonized “other”—like the Jew for the Nazis; the Rwandan Tutsi for the Hutus; or people of color for White Supremacists.

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism

The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power

Shoshana Zuboff

The internet has developed a new form of exploitation, like nothing we’ve seen before. The apt term Shoshanna Zuboff coins for it, “surveillance capitalism” describes a novel paradigm of free enterprise which seeks to convert all human experience into data, and create wealth by predicting, influencing and controlling human behaviour at scale.

In the series: Tools and the Development of Contemporary Society


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