I went to a workshop hosted by Aleks Krotoski at last year’s Auckland Writer’s Festival. The talk was on serendipity and I’m a little ashamed to admit that, for most of the workshop, I had no idea what she or the other participants were talking about. In anticipation, however, of the talk I had purchased her book Untangling the Web and my first instinct was to admit defeat and pass the book on to a more IT literate person without reading it. I am glad though that I did read it in the end: the book itself is well worth reading, and is written in an easily understood way without dumbing down any of the content.
Untangling the Web is divided into three chapters: Untangling Me, which looks at individual internet usage; Untangling Us, which explores the way we communicate with others using the web; and the final section, Untangling Society, which offers a bigger picture on the issues surrounding technology in our world.
That Krotoski is a fan of things ‘internet based’ is a given: she describes herself on her website as an academic and journalist who writes about technology and interconnectivity. However, I found this a more balanced discussion around the role of technology in society than I would have expected from an industry expert. Her experience as a writer for popular media has ensured that she has written it in such a way as to make it a relevant and enlightening read. There can be no doubt that this is a timely discussion – we have never had so much technology at our disposal. But Krotoski is quick to point out, for all the ‘doomsayers’ who predict the end of society as we know it, there is little research which does in fact prove what these effects are. Krotoski herself manages to de-sensationalize the issue, paring and dispelling many of the myths and over reactions around the influence of technology in our lives.
It is easy to focus on the negative side effects and clichéd problems of the internet. Instead, Krotoski presents readers with an opportunity to see the positive role that technology such as facebook and other social media can have, for example, the opportunity for people to explore different facets of their identity, the benefits of anonymity online, and the exploration of sexuality. This book explores the degree to which these provide an alternative to our already existing societal systems: for instance a common cry is that the rise of google has meant we no longer need to remember things. To this, Krotoski points out that we have often used different ways and people to help us remember things – google is just one more. Krotoski doesn’t shy away from the major criticisms around online usage, but she isn’t prepared to accept that it is leading us to a doomed existence either. We are capable of doing that on our own, with or without technology.
This book asks us to question the role of the internet and technology in our lives – our sense of identity, our sexuality, our communities, even how we carry on our identity in death. This book has made me think differently, more positively even, about the role of technology in my life. While I might still not understand serendipity, exactly, I am definitely keen to hear more from Aleks Krotoski.