Monday, August 10, 2020

Review of Infinite Detail by Tim Maughan (2019, FSG)

In reaction to the ever-growing dependency on digital technologies and the tyranny of surveillance capitalism, the predictive state and autonomous systems, a small enclave in Bristol has cut itself off from mainstream networked life, setting up an alternative counter-culture, the Croft. It’s not popular with everyone, creating inconveniences for those living in or nearby who do not aspire to its ideals, but it does demonstrate that an alternative digital life is possible. But then a radical anarchist group takes down the global internet and every connected device. Global capitalism is halted in its tracks and every production, logistical and consumption system descends into chaos. Instead of creating a better society, the world seems to implode, people scrambling to survive.  The Croft’s is targeted, it’s inhabitants battling to protect their turf and scattering. Years later, Anika – one of its former leaders – is making her way back attracted by stories of a girl who can see ghosts. At the same time, the architect of the Croft’s alternative network is making his way to Brooklyn to track down his lover. 

Infinite Detail tracks life before and after a catastrophic cyberattack that takes down the global internet and permanently disables every digital technology and system, following two threads, one set in Bristol, the other New York. In the time before and during the crash, the excesses of the global capitalism and technocratic governance in Bristol and New York is contrasted to the idealism of the Croft, a community that disconnects from the global internet, building its own communitarian network. In the time after, the folly of imploding the global system with no plan or bridge to maintain social systems is exposed, with the focus mostly on Bristol and the lives of a handful of the Croft’s inhabitants. Maughan nicely juxtaposes life before and after the crash, raising thoughtful questions and observations about a world becoming increasingly dependent on digital technologies to drive and control the global economy and state practices (and all the tech and systems discussed currently exist and are deployed rather than being speculative, though some are more embedded in the story than at present) and what happens if they are suddenly and permanently switched off. At the same time, the story relating to the Croft’s current and former inhabitants, and their own trials and memories, remains centre stage. The result is an engaging tale about our digital and surveillance present and future.


No comments: