Media Diets, Climate Change, and the Tech Backlash

An interview with author Eliot Peper on his new novel and the future of tech

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Eliot Peper. Photo: Courtesy of the author

“There’s a tech backlash right now focused on social media platforms, but I would encourage readers to take that a step further.”

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‘Bandwidth’ is out on May 1. Photo: Courtesy of the author

“What if instead of just trying to change one behavior — voting — you try to algorithmically stack the deck?”

I realized that if I wanted to change the situation, I would actually have to take control of my own media diet. So I started reading books that I had an inherent interest in rather than because they were part of the height of the cultural conversation or the political conversation at the time. I became much more specific and thoughtful about which stories I wanted to read so I would actually have reason for investing that time and attention.

“Stories are the original virtual reality.”

Trying to use targeted ads to change one single behavior is a first step, but you can go much, much deeper. What if instead of just trying to change one behavior — voting — you try to algorithmically stack the deck? What the folks who are manipulating the feed in Bandwidth are trying to do really surgically is change the worldview of powerful individuals. Rather than needing to convince them about an issue, they’ve already shaped their values. They’re actually trying to do it from the inside out, instead of from the outside in. If I can actually convince you of the truth in my perspective on the world, I no longer need to manipulate you. You’re actually going to be my ambassador for those values.

“I realized…I would actually have to take control of my own media diet.”

The other part of the question is who do we want to trust? If you think fake news or Cambridge Analytica was bad, wait until you see video and audio that are perfect simulacrums for an actual person — and we’re already beginning to see that. Digital media itself will no longer be proof of anything. And once recorded media ceases to be evidence of anything, what do we do next?

Journalist, author, dad. Former TIME magazine editor and foreign correspondent. Author of END TIMES, a book about existential risk and the end of the world.

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