Unlike Morozov or Lanier, Schmidt and Cohen deal with the details of how digital technology will likely alter political and economic relationships, rather than presenting abstract philosophies about it. Both types of books are exciting to read, but because Schmidt and Cohen focus so much on the potential problems ahead, theirs feels more grounded in reality. And unlike Newsom, it doesn’t feel like Schmidt and Cohen are trying to use their book to present themselves as thought leaders or to burnish their public image.

Then again, because of their positions at Google, they already are de facto leaders in the industry. They don’t need to sell themselves or their ideas—the world has already bought in. So why did they write this book, and why is it so good? While this book isn’t a commercial for Google, it is true that many of the ideas they discuss in this book—namely the importance of more powerful encryption tools overseas, especially to news organizations, and the incredible role that real-time translation software will play in reshaping how people do business across the world—will most likely be ideas that Google will lead the way on, and therefore profit from.

It could be that the book itself—like Gmail, like YouTube—is yet another “Siren Server,” an exciting consumer product that eventually benefits Google, the friendly behemoth that will one day own all of our personal information and get rich off of every part of our daily lives. I can no longer enjoy anything related to digital technology without being suspicious of ulterior motives and considering all of the long-term implications. I can blame, and thank, the cyberpundits for that.

If you'd like to get email from CJR writers and editors, add your email address to our newsletter roll and we'll be in touch.


More in Critical Eye

It doesn't add up

Read More »

Lauren Kirchner is a freelance writer covering digital security for CJR. Find her on Twitter at @lkirchner