The Twittering Machine is an unflinching view into the calamities of digital life: the circus of online trolling, flourishing alt-right subcultures, pervasive corporate surveillance, and the virtual data mines of Facebook and Google where we spend considerable portions of our free time. Richard Seymour shows how the digital world is changing the ways we speak, write, and think.
...excellent ... This is not a book with an accompanying TED Talk, a ten-step program, or One Weird Trick to Fix Everything. Seymour’s pose here is that of a working analyst, not a confident diagnostician. He draws connections, he sketches notes toward a further diagnosis. You can imagine him steepling his fingers and saying, his brow a bit furrowed, 'Isn’t it interesting that . . . ' or 'You seem very upset about . . . ' He deploys journalistic narrative and empirical data, but in general writes with a dense, aphoristic energy ... What if the urge lurking behind our compulsive participation in the Twittering Machine is not the behavioralist pursuit of maximized pleasure, but the Freudian death drive—our latent instinct toward inorganic oblivion, destruction, self-obliteration, 'the ratio'? What if we post self-sabotaging things because we want to sabotage ourselves? What if the reason we tweet is because we wish we were dead?
Seymour means to horrify us, and he succeeds ... It is the psychoanalytic inflections that elevate this book above so much recent 'techlash” literature. Seymour sidesteps and occasionally demolishes the more familiar tropes with which we understand smartphone addiction and 'online mobs”, instead searching for the underlying psychic and social roots of these malaises, which are being obscured by this vast 'writing experiment'. Each of us keeps our phone close, he observes, 'charged at all times. It is as though, one day, it’s going to bring us the message we’ve been waiting for' ... Only by recognising that we’re all inside this dark story might we acquire the power and urgency to get out – at least, that seems to be Seymour’s hope. Books this striking aren’t obliged to conclude with the typical 'so what do we do?' chapter, and The Twittering Machine doesn’t. We must rediscover the emancipatory aspect of writing, he argues, in defiance of the suffocating, regimented dystopia being forced on us. The book is a thrilling demonstration of what such resistance can look like, by one of the most clear-sighted and unyielding critics writing today. We should all read it.
As Seymour promises, his book is 'a horror story' ... Seymour’s book is dedicated to the Luddites, saboteurs who wrecked machinery during the industrial revolution, but he at once admits that we can hardly smash a machine that is a global abstraction, existing only in the wifi-tingling air. Righteously infuriated, he fires off volleys of angry aphorisms, yet he blunts their force by citing so many obscure, jargon-ridden academic experts as backup, and a sense of futility enfeebles his demand for change ... No technology can be uninvented, so Seymour’s pessimism leads him to a conclusion that feels merely wistful ... By way of escape, all Seymour can whimsically suggest is to go for a walk in the park, making sure you leave all your 'devices' behind. In his last sentence, he even recommends lolling on a lily pad. I have some more earnest advice: if you really want to set yourself free, you should read a book – preferably this one.