It seems clear that our dependence on the internet will only grow in coming years, offering untold convenience. But how much control will we have to surrender to maintain access to this digital wonderland?
That’s one of the key questions animating the first two books in Eliot Peper’s action- and idea-packed Analog trilogy.
In the first book, Bandwidth, which came out in May, a single company called Commonwealth controls the digital feed for most of the world. To imagine its power, Peper says, picture all of today’s technology and internet giants “times a thousand.”
Despite its monopolistic control over the world’s information delivery system, it finds itself vulnerable to a clandestine group of hackers and psychologists, who, over many years, covertly and subtly manipulate the feeds of world leaders to influence their thinking about important policies, such as climate change.
“They’re not creating fake news,” Peper says. “They are actually sorting, ordering, and surfacing true facts about the world in a way that shapes someone’s opinion.”
In Bandwidth, the behemoth corporation finds itself at the mercy of wily hackers, but in the series’ second book, Borderless, published last month, Commonwealth gains the upper hand, using its massive influence to challenge the idea of a nation-state.
Many readers might argue that the goals of the hackers in Bandwidth are good—such as forcing nations to respond to climate change. But these same readers would probably also agree that the hackers’ methods—secretly manipulating individuals’ feeds to change their opinions—violate ethical principles of privacy and autonomy.
The power of Peper’s books is that their world isn’t far from our own. The algorithms that animate Facebook and Google and (and Netflix and Amazon and on and on) are a bit like Peper’s hackers, subtly guiding our thoughts to give us what we think we want while also giving the tech companies what they want (likes, clicks, views, purchases).
The compromises we make with today’s internet seem to exact a low cost. But Peper wants us to stay on our toes. In the afterward to Bandwidth, he says people can remain autonomous by questioning their assumptions and remaining contemplative. “The feed,” he says, “can only define you if you let it.”
The third book in the series, Breach, is scheduled for publication in May.