James Bridle is an artist and writer working across technologies and disciplines. His artworks have been commissioned by galleries and institutions and exhibited worldwide and on the internet. His writing on literature, culture and networks has appeared in magazines and newspapers including Wired, the Atlantic, the New Statesman, the Guardian, and the Observer. “New Dark Age”, his book about technology, knowledge, and the end of the future, was published by Verso (UK & US) in 2018, and he wrote and presented “New Ways of Seeing” for BBC Radio 4 in 2019. His work can be found at http://jamesbridle.com.
How the Information Age makes the world more incomprehensible
As the world around us increases in technological complexity, our understanding of it diminishes. Underlying this trend is a single idea: the belief that our existence is understandable through computation, and more data is enough to help us build a better world.
In reality, we are lost in a sea of information, increasingly divided by fundamentalism, simplistic narratives, conspiracy theories, and post-factual politics. Meanwhile, those in power use our lack of understanding to further their own interests. Despite the apparent accessibility of information, we’re living in a new Dark Age.
From rogue financial systems to shopping algorithms, from artificial intelligence to state secrecy, we no longer understand how our world is governed or presented to us. The media is filled with unverifiable speculation, much of it generated by anonymous software, while companies dominate their employees through surveillance and the threat of automation.
In his brilliant new work, leading artist and writer James Bridle surveys the history of art, technology, and information systems, and reveals the dark clouds that gather over our dreams of the digital sublime.
The alarm beside your bed rings, triggered by an event in your calendar. The smart thermostat in your bedroom, sensing your motion, turns on the hot water and reports your movements to a central database.
Tech Giants offer the benefits of faster search results and turn-by-turn directions mask the deeper, destructive predations of what Shoshana Zuboff terms “surveillance capitalism”, a force that is as profoundly undemocratic as it is exploitative, yet remains poorly understood. As she details in her important new book, ignorance of its operation is one of the central strategies of this regime, and yet the tide is turning: more and more people express their unease about the surveillance economy and, disturbed by the fractious, alienated and trustless social sphere it generates, are seeking alternatives. It will be a long, slow and difficult process to extricate ourselves from the toxic products of both industrial and surveillance capitalism, but its cause is assisted by the weighty analysis provided by books such as this. Combining in-depth technical understanding and a broad, humanistic scope, Zuboff has written what may prove to be the first definitive account of the economic – and thus social and political – condition of our age.