Review of “Digital Depression: Information Technology And Economic Crisis”21/10/2014 by Intellectual Property Watch 1 CommentShare this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)The views expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and are not associated with Intellectual Property Watch. IP-Watch expressly disclaims and refuses any responsibility or liability for the content, style or form of any posts made to this forum, which remain solely the responsibility of their authors.Review of Digital Depression: Information Technology and Economic Crisis, Schiller, Dan (2014), University of Illinois Press, available online at http://www.amazon.com/Digital-Depression-Information-Technology-Geopolitics/dp/0252080327/.Review by Richard Hill[Disclosure: the author of this review is mentioned in the Acknowledgements section of the reviewed book.]Information and communication technologies (ICTs), and in particular the internet, have revolutionized and disrupted all aspects of human activity, and even behaviour. This has resulted in many academic publications and much discussion, including in intergovernmental bodies, regarding various issues, including how best to govern the internet.Dan Schiller’s book helps us to understand the background of these events, which have affected economic and political power relations, and how US policies have consistently favoured capital over labour, and have resulted in transfers of vast sums from developing countries to developed countries.Schiller documents in some detail how US policies that ostensibly promote the free flow of information around the world, the right of all people to connect to the internet, and free speech, are in reality policies that have, by design, furthered the geo-economic and geo-political goals of the US, including its military goals, its imperialist tendencies, and the interests of large private companies.For example, strict copyright protection is not held to be inconsistent with the free flow of information, nor is mass surveillance. And cookies and exploitation of users’ personal data by internet companies is not held to be inconsistent with privacy rights (indeed, as Schiller shows, the US essentially denies the existence of the right to personal privacy for anything related to the internet). And there should be no requirements that data be stored locally, lest it escape the jurisdiction of the US surveillance apparatus. And very high profits and dominant positions in key internet markets do not spark anti-trust or competition law investigations, as they might in any other industry.As Schiller notes, great powers have historically used communication systems to further their economic and strategic interests, so why should the US not so use the internet? Thus stated, the matter seems obvious. But it is important to recall that the matter is rarely thus stated. On the contrary, the internet is often touted as a generous gift to the world’s people, intended to lift them out of poverty and oppression, and to bring them the benefits of democracy and free markets. Schiller’s carefully researched analysis is thus an important contribution.It is not possible in this short review to do justice to the content of the book. It must suffice to say that it starts by tracing the origins and consequences of the current financial and economic crises, and their significant relation with ICTs; the increasing importance of trans-national production and corporations; the effects of ICTs on the military, the production and use of networks, end-user hardware, and software.Regarding telecommunications, Schiller explains the very significant changes that took place in the USA starting in the late 1970s. Those changes resulted in a major restructuring of the dominant telecommunications players in the US and led to the growth of the internet, a development which had world-wide effects. Schiller carefully describes the various US government actions that initiated and nurtured those changes, and that were instrumental in exporting similar changes to the rest of the world.The book explains how data-mining, coupled with advertising, fuels the growth of the dominant internet companies, and how this data-mining is made possible only by denying data privacy, and how states use the very same techniques to implement mass surveillance.Having described the situation, Schiller proceeds to analyse it from the economic and political points of view. Given that the US was an early adopter of the internet, it is not surprising that, because of economies of scale and network effects, US companies dominate the field (except in China, as Schiller explains in detail).The book describes how the US views the internet as an extraterritorial domain, subject to no authority except that of the US government and that of the dominant US companies. Schiller describes how this state of affairs has become a foreign policy objective, with the US being willing to incur significant criticism and to pay a significant political price in order to maintain the status quo.Schiller carefully documents how code words such as “freedom of access” and “freedom of speech” are used to justify and promote policies that in fact merely serve the interests of major US companies and, at the same time, the interests of the US surveillance apparatus, which morphed from a cottage industry into a major component of the military-industrial complex thanks to the internet.As Schiller explains, this increasing dominance of US business and US political imperialism have not gone unchallenged, even if the challenges to date have mostly been rhetorical (again, except for China). Conflicts over internet governance are related to rivalries between competing geo-political and geo-economic blocks, rivalries which will likely increase if economic growth continues to be weak. The rivalries are both between nations and within nations, and some are only emerging right now (for example, how to tax the digital economy, or the apparent emerging divergence of views between key US companies and the US government regarding mass surveillance).Indeed, the book explains how the challenges to US dominance have become more serious in the wake of the Snowden revelations, which have resulted in a significant loss of market share for some of the key US players, in particular with respect to cloud computing services. Those losses may have begun to drive the tip of a wedge between the so-far congruent goals of US companies and the US government.As Schiller hints in his closing chapter, the story is still unfolding, and it not clear how things well develop in the future.This book, and its extensive references, will be a valuable reference work for all future research in this area. And surely there will be much future research, and many more historical analyses of what may well be some of the key turning points in the history of mankind: the transition from the industrial era to the information era and the disruptions induced by that transition.A longer version of this review is available at: http://newsclick.in/international/review-schiller-dan-2014-digital-depression-information-technology-and-economic-crisis Richard Hill, an independent consultant in Geneva who was formerly a senior staff member at the UN International Telecommunication Union (ITU), recently published, “The New International Telecommunication Regulations and the Internet: A Commentary and Legislative History.”Share this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Related"Review of “Digital Depression: Information Technology And Economic Crisis”" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.