As a historian I find myself constantly asking the question “Is that really new, or is it rather something that looks new but isn’t?”...

As a historian I find myself constantly asking the question “Is that really new, or is it rather something that looks new but isn’t?” If you read the headlines, particularly those concerning the on going “Digital Revolution,” you would certainly get the impression that a Brave New World is emerging, one nothing like anything that we’ve seen before. And, in a way, this is true: we—meaning humans—have never lived in an environment with smartphones, social media, and the firehose of “information” that is the Internet. We’re always on and always connected in a way we have never been before.

But, as Andrew Keen points out in his smart new book How To Fix The Future (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2018), there is also a sense in which we have been here before, namely, in the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and 19th century. Then, too, technology and new forms of organization upended the way almost everyone in the industrializing world lived. (For more, see Auguste Comte, Karl Marx, and Emile Durkheim, unless you like poets, in which case you should just read the British Romantics.) Some made dire predictions, others said heaven was around the corner. There was lots of suffering and, well, lots of progress. What we did, Keen points out, is essentially tame the Industrial Revolution such that it served humanity rather than humanity serving it. He says we can do the same with the Digital Revolution, and he tells us how. Listen in.

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