Category Archives: person: Jerry Mander

The Internet & the Illusion of Empowerment

Has this idea (from ~2000) aged well? Some parts yes, some parts no.

(This article is one of about 23 that ran as a weekly full-page “ad” in The New York Times.)

FROM: internet archive of at

Article archive (Word Doc)


Photo of Original NY Times Advertisement

The Internet & the Illusion of Empowerment

The computer revolution has been no boon to democracy. It has threatened personal privacy like nothing before, and it’s a serious toxics hazard, too. As for empowerment, let’s call it “corporate empowerment” because they gain far more than you do.

The communications revolution is an odd revolution since all sides agree about it. The conservatives and the liberals, the George W. Bushes and Al Gores, the engineers and the artists, the corporations and the activists who oppose them, accept computers and the internet as empowering to individuals and democracy. But are they?

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AI is problematic

Artificial intelligence (AI) is problematic. I mean, well, it just builds on the basic problem of computers in general. It allows people to do amazing things. So when someone is clever at using them to make money in one way or another, it can make them A LOT of money. Hence huge inequalities in income and wealth (and hence power and freedom).


1) eliminating the need for expensive human workers doing boring work
2) analyzing data in ways that we couldn’t before

and more and more…

3) And AI can/will allow for even fancier ways of doing more of 1 and 2.

THE PROBLEM is that these computers (and the AI) also can do cool stuff for individuals — computers can be used by individuals in many many amazing ways. So it seduces us into thinking we are getting a good deal. But the reality MIGHT be that on balance they (computers) are doing more harm than good when one looks at the overall picture. This is JERRY MANDER’s “limitation of the personal view” which he applies to all technologies. I personally think the jury is out on that. We might swing from one extreme to another, or we may not. I recognize we might look back and realize it’s rather obvious one way or the other.

So anyway, it’s funny that David Brooks is questioning and paints 2 scenarios since his final sentence answers his own question.

This sorta connects to a “PRETTY GOOD HOUSE” article I just read over at Point being that Passive Houses (kinda high tech/complicated to build) can be pretty amazing, but even more amazing is probably building a small and simple house that can get to maybe 90% of a passivhaus (depending on climate) but for a much lower price and complexity — meaning available to be built by more people, more local people, local matericals, etc. etc.

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Filed under computers, erik-green, future, passive house, person: Jerry Mander

In the news…. some related links

The following are some related links. Computers are simultaneously making amazing things possible and helping make some people very rich, but also making it more difficult to make a living for many (see the income inequality video).
It’s touching everything for good or bad. Media, education, news, jobs, food, financial markets, politics. Some win (and we all hear about those people) and most lose (and news tries to not depress or mobilize us too much about that). “The limitation of the personal view” Jerry Mander calls it.


– The Rise of the Blockbuster (blockbusters are actually on the increase. the “long tail” is still there, but aren’t the real winners %-wise)


– Misconceptions about wealth Inequality in America


– “Q: If someone from the 1950s suddenly appeared today, what would be the most difficult thing to explain to them about life today?”
“A: I possess a device, in my pocket, that is capable of accessing the entirety of information known to man. I use it to look at pictures of cats and get in arguments with strangers.”

(original at:


– University megastar professors


– Welcome, Robot Overlords. Please Don’t Fire Us?
Smart machines probably won’t kill us all—but they’ll definitely take our jobs, and sooner than you think.


– BAY WATCHED: How San Francisco’s new entrepreneurial culture is changing the country.
OCTOBER 14, 2013
Naval Ravikant “… the cost to build and launch a product went from five million … to one million … to five hundred thousand … and it’s now to fifty thousand.”


– The Nacho Dorito
“I visited Steven A. Witherly, a food scientist who wrote an insider’s guide, “Why Humans Like Junk Food,” and we raided his lab to taste and experiment our way through the psychobiology of what makes Nacho Cheese Doritos so alluring.”



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It’s a 401(k) world — good luck / bad luck

Friedman’s editorial in the NYT

I agree with many commenters that Thomas Friedman is oversimplifying and conflating at least 2 issues:

– hyperconnected world (internet)
– globalization
– corporate takeover
– personal responsibilities
– personal opportunities

Yes, individuals are very empowered. But the flip-side: so are businesses. So it’s not quite as easy as “If you are self-motivated…” Good luck or bad luck? “The limitation of the personal view” Jerry Mander calls it.

There are lots of very self-motivated, hard-working, smart people who are having trouble getting by.

Check out the highlighted comments. An example:

In a previous response to one of Mr. Friedman’s articles, I suggested that he was getting a bit rusty and ought to take time off and meditate in a Buddhist monastery. But after reading this article, I think the New York Times should oblige him to take early retirement – without a golden parachute.

In Friedman’s universe, there are two types of people: innovators, who are the only people who create anything worthwhile and deserve their hugely inflated salaries, and everyone else, the drudges, who are disposable. His vision of the future bears a resemblance to the colonial regimes of the 18th and 19th centuries, in which a tiny elite of “civilized, enlightened” Europeans exploited millions of “backward, superstitious natives” and claimed it was all being done in the name of progress. Far from being new, Friedman’s “401(k) World” is a very old story that is unfortunately likely to be replayed for future generations – unless we do something to stop it.

The ironic thing is that Friedman, who is telling everyone to “reinvent themselves,” always writes the same thing, over and over again. Which doesn’t make it more palatable.

Perhaps he should be replaced as op-ed columnist by the Dalai Lama?

I’m not kidding.

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