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Copyright

Title: Netocracy
Authors: Alexander Bard & Jan Söderqvist (translated from Swedish by Neil Smith)
Publisher: Pearson Education - Business Minds series
Copyright: 2002
ISBN: 1-903-68429-3
Pages: 269
Price: £17.99
Rating: 30%

This must be a new trend - take two Swedes, preferable male, with hip glasses and shaved heads, have them write a book about the new economy, the internet, or the future of economics, and call it an instant classic. (To be fair, only one of this book’s authors has a shaved head, and the other wears glasses.) It began with the best-seller Funky Business, which, like the new economy it discussed was all bark and no bite, full of commonplaces and misunderstandings. Business Minds, who published Funky Business, obviously sees this as a successful fashion, and has published another book by two Swedes: Netocracy

The book’s blurb is enticing: “Those who can harness global networks of information and master new forms of communication will inherit the power. They are the Netocrats.” Perhaps two or three years ago, such a book might have had a relevance, but since we have realized that the dotcom expansion was made up of equal parts of innovation, hubris and greed, this type of subject seems less interesting.  

But the real problem with this book is trying to figure out exactly what it is about. The authors espouse a range of neo-Marxist ideas as the examine the relationship between power and information  in history, yet prevaricate a lot, as if they don’t really have anything new to say. Some of their statements are “so what?” statements; they state truths, but little more. They say, for example, “the fact that technology solves one problem does not mean that all related problems diappear or become less pressing. Working out how to transport information over great distances does not mean that people know how to interpret and understand the information in a relevant context.” Yes, that’s true. But they don’t take this anywhere, they state something - raising issues - but don’t offer answers. 

At times, the authors’ comments border on the ridiculous. In the introduction, they say, “Neither the intoxicated optimists nor the gloomy pessimists have been able to engage seriously in the problematics; they are both right only in the most banal respects, and wrong about everything important.” It is beyond me to interpret what this sentence actually means; I hesitate to fault the translator, but it seems to me to be nothing more than empty words, which this book is overladen with, from start to finish. 

One final example illustrates the ludicrous ideas behind this book. Again in the introduction, written for the English edition, the authors say how people will use the “means most effective in the age of electronic, interactive media to make their voices heard”. They go on to underline that “the WTC hijackers were very well educated and very much at home on the net. These guys even booked their plane tickets online!” Nuff said.

Needless to say, I didn’t manage to finish this book. I still don’t know what it’s about. 

Kirk McElhearn  

Kirk McElhearn (kirk@mcelhearn.com) is a freelance writer and translator living in a village in the French Alps. You can find out all about him at his web site, http://www.mcelhearn.com.