Stephen Baker

The Boost
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Ira Glass on storytelling

August 12, 2008Writing the book






I came across this clip on a Booklist blog (while searching fruitlessly for the review of The Numerati on the site.) I enjoyed this talk, and especially appreciate the point that even when we spend months and months researching and piling up data, in the end we have to be storytellers.

Well, since I can't find the review on the site, I'll cut and paste the text that was emailed to me. I get a special kick out of the next-to-last sentence, which seems to suggest that humanity's last great hope in the battle against machines is... sarcasm.

[STARRED]The Numerati.
Baker, Stephen (Author)
Sep 2008. 256 p. Houghton, hardcover, $26.00. (9780618784608). 303.48.
Every click we make, every cell phone call, every credit-card purchase enlarges our “digital dossiers,” business journalist Baker explains in this bracing behind-the-screen investigation into the booming world of data mining and analysis. Our digital echoes collect in a vast ocean of data that marketers and government agencies alike are eager to trawl, if only it were charted. Enter the top-notch mathematicians Baker dubs the Numerati. Baker gamely visits eerily high-tech companies and speaks with algorithm whizzes intent on quantifying everything we do in all arenas of life in order to mathematically model humanity and manipulate our behavior. Baker’s report on microtargeted marketing, the use of workplace data to “optimize” employees, the scrutiny of online social networks, and the robotic reading of millions of blogs supports his warning that we’re “in danger of becoming data serfs—slaves to the information we produce.” This is a fascinating outing of the hidden yet exploding world of digital surveillance and stealthy intrusions into our decision-making processes as we buy food, make a date, or vote for president. Yet, as Baker assures us, we are not helpless. For one thing, machines still can’t process sarcasm. Read and resist.

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Kirkus Reviews - https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/stephen-baker/the-boost/

LibraryJournal - Library Journal

Booklist Reviews - David Pitt

Locus - Paul di Filippo

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