Essays, reviews and longer pieces

Frank Kermode Remembered: A personal tribute to a great scholar and a good friend Observer August 22, 2010.

An exchange with James Gleick: A conversation with James Gleick about his book, The Information. Observer April 10, 2011.

Steve Jobs’s Commencement Address: My annotated version of Steve Jobs’s famous Stanford Commencement Address, Observer October 9, 2011.

Steve Pinker and the decline of violence: A conversation with Stephen Pinker about his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: A History of Violence and Humanity Observer October 15, 2011.

John Brockman: A conversation with John Brockman, the literary agent who made science writing into a big deal and founded one of the world’s most thought-provoking websites, Observer January 8, 2012.

Present at the Creation: A conversation with George Dyson about Turing’s Cathedral, his account of the origins of computing, Observer February 26, 2012.

Thomas Kuhn: the man who changed the way the world looked at science: An essay marking the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn’s great book about how science works, Observer August 19, 2012.

Are We Getting Smarter? A review of James Flynn’s book, Guardian September 28, 2012.

An exchange with Jaron Lanier: A conversation with Jaron Lanier about his book Who Owns The Future?, Observer March 17, 2013.

The New Digital Age: A review of The New Digital Age by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen. Observer April 29, 2013.

The lure of Silicon Fen: An essay on the evolution of the innovation ecosystem surrounding the city and University of Cambridge. Observer December 1, 2013.

The Importance of Being Edward: An essay on the significance of Edward Snowden’s revelations about NSA (and corporate) surveillance. Observer December 29, 2013.

Facebook@10: A piece about the social networking service’s first decade. Observer February 2, 2014.

25 things you might not know about the Web A piece to mark the Web’s 25th birthday. In the Observer March 9, 2014.

Flash Boys and the Politics of Expertise Some reflections on Michael Lewis’s account of High Frequency Traders. In the Observer April 6, 2014.

The People’s Platform My review of Astra Taylor’s The People’s Platform: And Other Digital Delusions In the Observer April 20, 2014.

Big Data: the Rorschach Blot of our times An essay on Big Data. In the Observer June 8, 2014.

Virtual Cash A review of Edward Castronova’s book, Wildcat Currency Observer June 22, 2014.

Leica and Me An essay to mark the centenary of the Leica camera Observer August 24, 2014.

Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo My review of Nicholas Carlson’s book about Yahoo’s CEO, *Observer, January 4, 2015.

The Concierge Economy An essay on Uber, Observer December 28, 2014.

The Internet is not the Answer My review of Andrew Keen’s book of that title, Observer February 1, 2015.

You can’t always get what you want A lecture delivered at Trinity College, Dublin, April 29, 2015. Video here but quality not great. I recommend the text instead.

Where there’s geeks, there’s brass Review of Nathaniel Popper’s Digital Gold, Observer May 31, 2015.

Run, Larry, Run An OpEd piece about Larry Lessig’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, Observer, September 6, 2015.

Whither Twitter OpEd piece, Observer, February 14, 2016.

The Cyber Effect by Mary Aiken My review, Observer, August 14, 2016.

Forget ideology, liberal democracy’s newest threats come from technology and bioscience An essay on Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, Observer, August 28, 2016.

The Long History of ‘Cyber’ Review of Thomas Rid’s The Rise of the Machines: the Lost History of Cybernetics, Observer, September 11, 2016.

Russian hacking of the US election is the most extreme case of how the internet is changing our politics A longish piece on how the Internet was shaping US politics, Observer, September 18, 2016.

Has the Internet become a failed state? An essay on how to think about the future of our networked world, Observer November 27, 2016.

Tim Wu: ‘The internet is like the classic story of the party that went sour’ My review of Tim Wu’s *The Attention Merchants plus an email exchange with the author, Observer, January 8, 2017.

Move Fast and Break Society My review of Jonathan Taplin’s Move fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Have Cornered Culture and What It Means For All Of Us, Observer, April 16, 2017.

A review of Garry Kasparov’s book, Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins, Observer, June 4, 2017.

“Challenges to Silicon Valley won’t come just from Brussels” Longish comment piece on the context of the European Commission’s €2.4B fine on Google, Observer 3 July, 2017. Link

Why we need a 21st-century Martin Luther to challenge the church of tech An Introduction to my 95 Theses about Technology project. Observer, 29 October, 2017.

Caught in the Web A review of *World without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech** by Franklin Foer, Literary Review, November 2017, p.46.

The new surveillance capitalism My Prospect essay on corporate capture of the Internet, February 2018.

How to Fix the Future My review of Andrew Keen’s book How to fix the Future: Staying Human in a Digital World, Observer, 4 March, 2018.

How Facebook got into a mess, and why it can’t get out of it An OpEd on the Zuckerberg Apology Tour, Observer, 8 April, 2018.

Zuckerberg’s Monster, My review of Siva Vaidhyanathan’s Anti-Social Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy, Observer, 24 June, 2018.

Mark Zuckerberg’s dilemma – what to do with the monster he has created? openDemocracy, 29 October, 2018. This is an edited version of my chapter in Anti-Social Media: The Impact on Journalism and Society, edited by John Mair, Tor Clark, Neil Fowler, Raymond Snoddy and Richard Tait, Abramis, 2018.

Populism and the internet – a toxic mix shaping the age of conspiracy theories Observer, 25 November 2018

“Communities Real and Imagined” A brief essay for the Lent 2018 edition of Silver Street, the magazine of research students in the Cambridge Department of Sociology.

‘The goal is to automate us’: welcome to the age of surveillance capitalism, a review of Shoshana Zuboff’s In the Age of Surveillance Capitalism and an exchange with the author. Observer, 21 January, 2019.

Long untouchable, Web Giants now know what it feels like to be hunted, Observer, 10 February, 2019

Networked totalitarianism — My review of Kai Strittmatter’s remarkable new book on Xi Jinping’s totalitarian ambitions, Observer, 30 June, 2019.

Behind the Screen review – inside the social media sweatshops — A review of Sarah T. Roberts’s Behind the Screen, Observer, 18 August, 2019.

Dominic Cummings: The feared T-shirt technocrat who scorns the political class — profile of Cummings, *Observer, 28 July, 2019

Permanent Record by Edward Snowden review – gripping spy story — my review of Edward Snowden’s memoir, Observer, 23 September, 2019.

Western tech companies must stop kowtowing to China’s bullying An OpEd piece, Observer, 13 October, 2019.

Computer Says Go — My review of Stuart Russell’s Human Compatible: AI and the Problem of Control, Literary Review, October 2018, p.52. pdf

How the tech giants have become too big to fail — my review of Rana Foroohar’s Don’t Be Evil: the case against Big Tech, Observer, 3 November, 2019.

Clive James would have been a national treasure if only he’d taken himself more seriously My tribute to a great critic. Observer 1 December, 2019.

Remembering George Steiner My appreciative piece about an unforgettable critic. Observer, 9 February, 2020.

Slouching towards Dystopia My longish essay on how we got into our current mess with digital technology, New Statesman, 28 February – 5 March 2020, pp. 25-29.

Biden’s path to the White House could hit a dead end on Facebook My essay on Zuckerberg, Trump and the 2020 Election. Observer, 26 July, 2020.

At last, the tech titans’ nerd immunity shows signs of fading OpEd, Observer, 2 August, 2020.

It Rings True My review of We are Bellingcat: An Intelligence Agency for the People, by Eliot Higgins, British Journalism Review, vol 32 No2, June 2021.

An Ugly Truth My review of An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination by Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang. Observer, 18 July, 2021.

Can Big Tech ever be reined in? A long essay in the Observer, 21 November, 2021.

Has Facebook peaked? An OpEd piece in the Observer, 6 February, 2022.

Twitter is not the town square – it’s just a private shop. An OpEd piece in the Observer, 1 May, 2022.

‘A race it might be impossible to stop’: how worried should we be about AI?, An OpEd on Geoff Hinton’s decision to step down from Google, the Observer, 7 May, 2023.

Why the tech-equals-progress narrative must be challenged. My review of Power and Progress by Daron Acemoglu and Simon Johnson, Observer, 7 May, 2023.

The Coming Wave by Mustafa Suleyman My review, Observer, 27 August, 2023.

Among the Trolls by Marianna Spring My review of an interesting and useful book, Observer, 4 March, 2024.