The story of how venture capital, media moguls and marketeers use digital magic to distract us, invade our privacy, corrupt democracy, distort our human values and sell us things that we don't need. TOO MUCH MAGIC looks at all aspects of our emerging digital lifestyle, how it is changing us, and who really is benefiting.
We have a long love/hate relationship with technology. However, the problem is usually not technology itself, but rather the powers that are deciding its course. The conflict is apparent as we witness people standing in line overnight, eagerly waiting to buy the newest tech gadget, while at the same time every film about the future from Metropolis to Blade Runner to Avatar depicts a dystopia that is entirely built upon technology.
Originally, the Mac and personal computing revolution were about self-empowerment, and the Internet was a utility for people to share knowledge. Now that revolution is in danger of being turned against us. TOO MUCH MAGIC explains how the Cult of Tech, a convergence of business, media and academic interests, is infiltrating every aspect of our lives through clever marketing and “digital convergence.”
TOO MUCH MAGIC examines what “being digital” really means. The book details historic changes in our entertainment, personal communications, play time, public affairs and social interactions. It also sounds an alarm on the escalating yet stealthy attacks upon our basic freedoms.
TOO MUCH MAGIC tells readers what powerful interests don’t want them to know about the their increasingly digital lives. Prescriptively, author Benlevi points out ways we can choose to disengage from technology delightfully and exactly what we each can do to preserve our humanity, independence and creativity – all of which could vanish through deceptive acts of digital magic.
Although the topic is serious, the tone is entertaining and irreverent, offering a refreshing contrarian take that comes from a deep understanding of technology and correlated cultural knowledge. It is a unique blend of skepticism and enthusiasm for the digital age.
An insider’s perceptive look at how digital technology is consuming the consumer.
It’s striking when someone with more than two decades of experience promoting and launching tech products sets out to write a book that is essentially a warning to society about the nasty nature of technology.In fast-moving text replete with engaging ad-like chapter headings, Benlevi traces the rise of digital technology and the manner in which it has been sold to the consumer. The book’s premise can be summed up in the author’s stinging observation that “[t]he core properties of commonality and connectivity that make digital life seem so appealing are exactly the same ones that make it so destructive, invasive, and subject to abuse.”
Indeed, Benlevi spends the majority of the book exploring this notion. He demonstrates how entertainment—primarily video, music and games—is the economic driver of the digital world. Benlevi suggests media labs, the “digerati,” venture capitalists, Internet service providers and “marketeers” comprise an insidious “Cult of Tech” that is first and foremost focused on profit.
In case after case, the author depicts the potentially dangerous downside of a digital life. He discusses, for example, how video gamers become alienated from society, why cell phones can act like “digital cocoons,” how YouTube has turned everyone into a video producer and why social media is fast becoming just another channel to market brands. He adopts the contrarian view that the widely acclaimed iPad is for digital media”—a device designed to feed more entertainment options to the consumer rather than promote effectively “a vending machine creativity.
He makes the intriguing claim that the 2008 economic meltdown “was entirely facilitated by digital technology and computerized models that were either wrong, fraudulent, or both.” This is not entirely new territory; other books have pointed to society’s over-reliance on technology. But Benlevi is especially passionate about the topic, which makes for a good read. In the end, Benlevi offers a compelling case for taking control of one’s digital life, rather than having it control you.
An entertaining, insightful book that a digitally dependent reader won’t soon forget.
Star Rating: 5 out of 5
Too Much Magic combines the best of two worlds: it is written with both passion and journalistic objectivity, in equal measures. That is a tougher path to navigate than it might seem. When an author’s passion for his subject overwhelms his objectivity, the reader quite rightly treats any conclusions reached with suspicion. Objectivity without passion is just dull. Jason Benlevi gets the balance just right.
Benlevi, who has worked in the computer industry as a marketing-communications specialist since personal computing first emerged, clearly knows the nuts and bolts of his subject—the often subversive effects technology has enacted on our lives. This leads to a wide range of sub-topics. You may not immediately know what the relationship is between your ability to share music you’ve bought and paid for and basmati rice, however Benlevi carefully makes the connections (hint: it’s copyright law, patent law, and the U.S. Supreme Court).
There are many, many books published every year and equally as many articles published every day about loss of privacy, the withering of civil rights, and the numbing effects of video violence. These are some of the key issues of our time. Having read many of those many books and articles Too Much Magic might just be the best of the lot. Written in a calm, yet urgent, voice Benlevi gives the reader an indispensable primer, an excellent examination on just what all those nifty, shiny little phones and tablets are actually doing behind their screens. This book is well-deserving of a large audience.
TOO MUCH MAGIC. A book that helps explain our inability to stop buying gear. And much more.
I have a book addiction and I'm not ashamed of it. There's a ton of great stuff out there in the book-o-sphere. And the focus it takes to write and produce a great book means that there's more signal and less noise in a book than in most other media. I know from past experience that most of my readers here at VSL love to read. Otherwise they wouldn't trudge through my longer posts. We've pretty much scared off the people who profess to not like reading much...
Today, instead of crooning about the latest cameras or doing another heartfelt post about shooting with your heart instead of your brain, I'm reviewing a book that has absolutely nothing to do with photography and everything to do with why we enjoy photography less, feel as though we have less time to devote to our photography and can't seem to get a foothold onto the steep cliff of creative expression. And why we're spinning our wheels instead of getting stuff done.
Reader, Jason Benlevi, sent me his book entitled, "Too Much Magic: Pulling the Plug on the Cult of Tech." (full disclosure: It is a review copy, paperback, and no other value or exchange of services has occurred to, in any way, influence my reviewing of the book.)
The book is both a history of our entanglement with, and accommodation of, all the devices and programming and social interfaces that the past 100 years of technological advancement brought to the consumer. Benlevi makes a very good case that every new application and device has a useful side and a dark side and that we, as consumers, are being pushed into choices and use patterns without informed consent. And without truthfully acknowledging the dark sides.
I won't go into detail and spoil a great read for you but one of the statements that jumped out at me concerned the shift in our focus of brain and financial resources. At one point, two generations back, we (the U.S.A.) sent men to the moon. Now, with our focus on recreational and sales oriented websites as targets for our joint venture dollars the only way we can get our people to the international space station is to hitch a ride on a Russian spacecraft. We our the masters of "I'm at Starbucks!" "Do these shoes make me look fat?" and other important social interactions. But at the same time we earn less than we did 20 years ago and work harder.
Benlevi is a good writer and he makes the concepts flow. His time lining of our tech history helps all the concepts fall nicely into place. His ability to show both sides of the tech coin comes from his own long history in the technology world. He is a hardly an outsider.
If you've felt uneasy about the massive intrusion and implied necessity of social networking in your life but you don't understand why you feel uneasy or what to do about it, then this book is for you.
Jason Benlevi has spent the past decades as a marketing communications guru working with the leading technology companies in Silicon Valley and beyond selling the dream of a digital life. Now he has taken a critical look at the sum of the parts that have been created and questions whether the dream has been created for all, or whether it is just a new package for the same-old powers-that-be to exploit the rest of us.
Jason found himself channeled into the sciences by the launch of Sputnik - until intersecting with the twin evils of geometry class and the Vietnam War. From that point forward Benlevi was on a different course, one that ultimately won him the disaffection of the L.A. school system and an escape to the San Francisco Bay Area. Living a dual academic life in film school and computer labs, Jason authored what was probably the first feature film about computer hackers, well in advance of anyone in Hollywood having the vaguest idea what he was talking about. This was years before War Games and Sneakers (which no one remembers anyway.)
Deciding that he couldn’t live on art alone, or afford the gadgets he desired, Jason became involved in advertising, where creative ideas are sent to die, but at least the artists and writers get paid. The timing was fortuitous since he was among the few creative individuals who actually enjoyed talking to computer engineers and could translate what their talk into language that any normal TV-watching, newspaper-reading individual could understand.
While working at the will of the world’s leading technology companies, he blogged under many aliases about politics, culture and technology. Now he has summoned the courage and recklessness to put a name to his work…and an end to his career.
There seem to be a lot of books lately raising alarms about the Internet, what’s different about your book?
Well, really there are two things that are different. Firstly, the digitization of our lives is a much broader issue than just the Internet…and there is a tendency in most books to narrow the discussion down to just one issue, say privacy, or education. Too Much Magic is a much more holistic approach that shows how all these digital touch points connect into an ecosystem that is more pervasive, and actually invasive.
Secondly, most books on tech culture are really an inner dialog among academics, marketeers and the digerati class, and they are a set of debating points, the kind of stuff that makes the authors great candidates for industry conferences, but often is just academic. They really are not addressing the human experiences of digital life the way that the rest of us are living it. This book is very inclusive and intuitive for people to understand. When I read the book to people I see a lot of heads nodding.
Given that that the Bay Area is thick with people dependent on the tech industry are you making enemies?
Let me be clear, I am a long-time lover of technology, I’m just not thrilled with the models that are evolving that are more focused on monetization for what are actually trivial applications of tech…or turning everything we do into just one more way to target people with advertising. We can do better.
The Cult of Tech makes it sound rather conspiratorial. Isn’t that a bit farfetched?
Not a conspiracy, but certainly an alignment of self-serving and mutual interests. That’s what the cult of tech is really about. Like the financial industry, it has become extremely self-serving and seeks to intimidate those that are not “in the know.”
The self-promotion is pretty shameless. Such as the game designer telling us that reality is broken and only game play can save us. Which is just an absurd notion given that the game industry has unleashed social dysfunction on an unprecedented scale…and the games are really unimaginative. Sure the graphics get better, but the gameplay is the same as it was 20 years ago. Shooting and driving. Braindead. And now our movies are starting to look like games.
With most development these days focusing on social media, do you feel that it actually has any value?
I think it has huge value for people to maintain connections with friends and associates…the troubling thing is that companies like Facebook are more interested in mining your social life to target you with ads than in creating a good experience. Also, as in the dotcom days, the circus is in town, and there are newly minted social media “experts” who have never actually done any work other than promote themselves, their books and conferences via social media.
But you yourself have been involved in the Tech industry and continue to be?
That is true, but it has changed.
Originally the digital revolution was about Macs and PCs breaking us away from big computing…the cloud is really a return to the bad old days of centralized services. There are also social dangers from people feeling that they need to be constantly connected or they have anxiety attacks.
Technology can solve a lot of problems, but the technologies often get too far out in front of the sociology. That said, I am still optimistic. If I wasn’t I wouldn’t have bothered writing the book.