Books

The Costs of Connection

My new book, co-authored with Nick Couldry, is The Costs of Connection: How Data is Colonizing Human Life and Appropriating it for Capitalism. It is forthcoming from Stanford University Press in August 2019.

Learn more at colonizedbydata.com.

 

Advanced Praise

A profound exploration of how the ceaseless extraction of information about our intimate lives is remaking both global markets and our very selves. The Costs of Connection represents an enormous step forward in our collective understanding of capitalism’s current stage, a stage in which the final colonial input is the raw data of human life. Challenging, urgent and bracingly original.
Naomi Klein, Gloria Steinem Chair of Media, Culture and Feminist Studies, Rutgers University
Couldry and Mejias have written a profoundly important book, demonstrating the lasting value of social theory to the interpretation (and improvement) of our new digital reality. They deeply understand the nature of platform capitalism. They draw striking and rigorously reasoned parallels between modern tech giants and the firms and governments that exploited colonies in centuries past. And they advance an agenda for decolonizing data that promotes a healthier ecology of online interaction. This book is an essential guide to understanding the depths of the crises in data protection, privacy, and automation that we now face.
Frank Pasquale, Professor of Law, University of Maryland Carey School of Law, author of The Black Box Society
A provocative tour-de-force. A powerful interrogation of the power of data in our networked age. Through an enchanting critique of different aspects of our data soaked society, Couldry and Mejias invite the reader to reconsider their assumptions about the moral, political, and economic order that makes data-driven technologies possible.
danah boyd, Microsoft Research and founder of Data & Society
This book is among the most insightful and important contributions to our understanding of the political economy of data and the ‘internet of things.’ It brings together historical analysis, critical theory, and a trenchant sense of urgency to reveal what’s really at stake as we choose to send information through everything and connect our bodies and minds to streams of data.
Siva Vaidhyanathan, author of Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy
This book is a must-read for those grappling with how the global data economy reproduces long-standing social injustice, and what must be done to counter this phenomenon. With a feast of insights embedded in visceral historical and contemporary illustrations, the authors brilliantly push the reader to rethink the relations between technology, power, and inequality.
Payal Arora, author of The Next Billion Users: Digital Life beyond the West
There’s a land grab occurring right now, and it’s for your data and your freedom: companies are not only surveilling you, they’re increasingly influencing and controlling your behavior. This paradigm-shifting book explains the new colonialism at the heart of modern computing, and serves as a needed wake-up call to everyone who cares about our future relationship with technology.
Bruce Schneier, author of Click Here to Kill Everybody: Security and Survival in a Hyper-Connected World
This is a deeply critical engagement with the systems that enable ‘data colonialism’ to extend its reach into the past, present and future of human life itself. Couldry and Mejias provide a comprehensive and well-considered challenge to the seeming inevitability of this transformative development in capitalism. Theirs is a giant step forward along the path toward rediscovering the meaning and possibility of self-determination. It is not too late to join in!
Oscar H. Gandy, Jr., Emeritus Professor, Annenberg School of Communication, University of Pennsylvania
Couldry and Mejias show that data colonialism is not a metaphor. It is a process that expands many dark chapters of the past into our shiny new world of smartphones, smart TVs, and smart stores. This book rewards the reader with important historical context, fascinating examples, clear writing, and unexpected insights scattered throughout.
Joseph Turow, Robert Lewis Shayon Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, author of The Aisles Have Eyes: How Retailers Track Your Shopping, Strip Your Privacy, and Define Your Power.
Nick Couldry and Ulises A. Mejias go digging deeply into the digital: its spaces, its layers, its deployments. One guiding effort concerns what it actually takes to have this digital capacity in play. It is not an innocent event: it is in some ways closer to an extractive sector, and this means there is a price we pay for its existence.
Saskia Sassen, Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology at Columbia University, author of Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy

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Off the Network

My first book Off the Network: Disrupting the Digital World (2013) is available from the University of Minnesota Press. You can pick up a paper copy from your favorite bookseller. Thanks to both Minnesota Press and SUNY Oswego, the book is also available in an open access format, so you can read or download the whole manuscript.

 

The book presents a critical examination of the digital network as technological template for organizing and determining society, and considers various motivations and strategies for disidentifying from the network. The work lies at the intersection of the areas of critical internet studies, network science, philosophy and social studies of technology, and the political economy of digital media. It asks the question: How do digital networks include and exclude modes and meanings of sociality? In response, it argues that the more monopolies (a market structure characterized by a single seller) control infrastructure and access to social media, and the more monopsonies (a market structure characterized by a single buyer) control aggregation and distribution of user-generated content, the easier it becomes for authorities and corporations to determine the meaning of sociality and to control the creation of public spaces. In essence, I argue that one-to-many communication is not giving way to a utopian many-to-many communication (much touted in liberal discourses about the internet) without first going through many-to-one mechanisms of control.

 

From the publisher: “Off the Network is a fresh and authoritative examination of how the hidden logic of the Internet, social media, and the digital network is changing users’ understanding of the world–and why that should worry us. Ulises Ali Mejias also suggests how we might begin to rethink the logic of the network and question its ascendancy. He argues that the digital network, touted as consensual, inclusive, and pleasurable, is also monopolizing and threatening in its capacity to determine, commodify, and commercialize so many aspects of our lives. Mejias shows how the network broadens participation yet also exacerbates disparity –and how it excludes more of society than it includes. The result is an uncompromising, sophisticated, and accessible critique of the digital world that increasingly dominates our lives.”

What people are saying about Off the Network

“This is an extraordinary book. The ‘paranodal’ critique made in Off the Network demands that we look at the social spaces that lie between, and are ignored by, network nodes; at the material basis on top of which supposedly immaterial networks rest; and at the vertical structures of political economic power that control the apparent horizontality of networks. In doing so, Ulises Ali Mejias delivers a devastating intellectual slam against conventional thinking about the Internet from both the left and the right.”
— Nick Dyer-Witheford, coauthor of Games of Empire (from back cover)

 

Off the Network shows us that centralization of online services is not accidental. Take a look behind the social media noise and read how algorithms condition us. Ulises All Mejias carves out a postaffirmative theory of networks. No more debates about whether you are a dog or not; identity is over. Power returns to the center of Internet debates. Off the Network disrupts the illusion of seamless participation–it sides with the resisters and rejecters and teaches us to unthink the network logic. Its message: don’t take the network paradigm for granted.”
— Geert Lovink, author of Networks Without a Cause (from back cover)

 

“Activism and academia would seem to go hand-in-hand, but often, too much of the former is seen as a detriment to the latter, thus leaving many an academic monograph equivocating its political inclinations. Such is not the case with Ulises Ali Mejias’s Off the Network: Disrupting the Digital World – one of the most provocative academic texts to be released in 2013. Provocative, not because of extreme claims regarding network ontology per se, but because Mejias makes his claims so fluidly and sensibly, that poking holes in his line of thought becomes not only difficult, but undesired.”
Clayton Dillard, Oklahoma State University

 

Off the Network is not a Luddite’s lament but a reminder that digital networks are owned by corporations and amplify their interests, spurring consumerism and giving people the illusion that their choices are more meaningful than they actually are.”
David Luhrssen, Express Milwaukee

 

 

“This work purports to uncover and critique the hidden logic of the Internet. Like any technology, the Internet fosters certain kinds of activities and enables new ones, but diminishes others; it elevates some skills and relations while rendering others secondary or obsolete. According to Mejias (communication studies, SUNY Oswego), the meme of a network of nodes intrinsically promotes a hierarchical and controlling structure, reflected in the dominance of a small number of particularly influential sites… Readers may question whether the author has too readily adopted the perspective of the large Internet content providers as descriptive of the Internet itself. But if people are to make technologies serve genuinely liberating human ends, they must understand what tugs in darker directions. Off the Network contributes to that understanding. Summing Up: Recommended.”
Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, April 2014 Vol. 51 No. 08

 

 

“This book is politically radical and defines the network as ‘part of a capitalist order that reproduces inequality through participation and… this participation exhibits a hegemonic and consensual nature’… It opposes years of supporting the network paradigm as an open one that creates democratic access and social capital, empowering people to participate no matter of how physically isolated or socially excluded they are. Mejias attacks the contemporaneity of this approach, describing network’s “nodocentrism” and its negative consequences, or the “monopsony”, or social network structures where there’s a singular buyer for a multitude of sellers. It’s a structural critique, which aims to ‘disidentify from the digital network’ and constitutes a compelling manifesto, with mostly theoretical strategies that raise many interesting questions.”
— review from Neural.it

 

 

Off the Network was the featured book of the week (May 27, 2015) at unglue.it, a distributor of free digital books. https://unglue.it/work/145698/#

 

“This book would be a great read in the current situation, when social media networks were used to wrongly predict the result of the U.S. presidential election… The book could give emerging scholars insight into how social media platforms are based on commercial and market demands, which is one of the reasons for fake news and surveillance. This book brings forth the profitable market side of the Internet and network and how it works. Scholars of Internetmediated communication and technology should read this, since it challenges the popular framework of the Internet.”
International Journal of Communication 11(2017), Book Review 2220–2222

 

 

“Especially in recent years, privatized online applications and platforms are penetrating and regulating individual’s life. WeChat, Xiami Music Player, Keep, Kuaishou, etc., are defining who we are and our sociality… While network logic is increasingly promoted and adopted in China in an optimistic tone, the critical interpretations from Mejias could serve as a reminder of rethinking and even unthinking such aggressive logic.”
— Lu Xu, review of Off the Network for Fudan University’s Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences (Feb 2019).

 

Translations of Off the Network:
ccdMejias, U. (2017). Desmantelando la Red. Revista 404. Ciudad de Mexico: Centro de Cultura Digital. [SPANISH - abridged version]link
nowemediaMejias, U. (2014). Odmapowując sieć. In P. Celiński (ed.) Nowe media = nowa partycypacja. Lublin, Poland: Instytut Kultury Cyfrowej. [POLISH - abridged version]link