I’ve been reading Surveillance Valley by Yasha Levine for about a week now and I cannot fully express the praise this book deserves in words. This book opens up a side of the internet that has hidden in plain sight for decades and the book itself is already 2 years old, which makes me wonder why I’ve never heard of it.

YASHA LEVINE at Books Inc. Mountain View | Books Inc ...

The first three chapters reveal a side of the internet that has been long forgotten, that the advantages the internet provides towards the research of massive and tiny datasets are towards both commercial use and military use, both public and private, ‘dual-use’. The fact that the internet is constantly being surveilled by shouldn’t be such a recent revelation, yet many seem to forget that ‘Terms and Conditions apply’, that all the data we see, use and share is being sent back to somewhere, that Google’s money doesn’t appear from thin air, that targeted-ads require data from users to be target towards. In having such free access to so much information, both useful and useless, we’ve forgotten the very reason the internet exists and Levine is here to remind us.

In the first three chapters, Yasha Levine explores the military incentivised engagements and improvements that lead up to the creation of the ARPANET, a precursor to the internet we have today. What’s interesting is how strikingly similar ARPA’s methods to help with counterinsurgency is to Cambridge Analytica’s methods to help with political events (that I found out by watching The Great Hack, a documentary on Cambridge Analytica’s involvement in the 2016 US elections and Brexit).

Movie Review: The Great Hack is a Story About Choices, A ...

Throughout the first three chapters, we meet many different identities that founded what we know as the internet today. We start with William Godel, an anti-communist responsible for the development of chemicals such as Agent Orange as counterinsurgency weapons against the Vietnamese.

Soon we move onto J C R Licklider, the single most important member of ARPA, an organisation built to aid counterinsurgency in all ways possible. It was Lick and his team that managed to build the first iteration of the ARPANET to allow for more accurate, more convenient and faster military research. However, because ARPA would later need the ARPANET, COINS (Basically military rebranded ARPANET) and other computers to connect easily, there would be a requirement for new protocols and structure to be made. Eventually, Robert Khan and Vint Cerf planned and developed TCP/IP for ‘ARPANET 2.0’ which is still used for the internet today.


Photo of J C R Licklider from globalabyrinth.wordpress.com.

One of Lick’s biggest projects was The Cambridge Project: a project that would connect various universities, national ‘help the military use data to fight insurgencies’ while also used by analysts and other members of the public to work with large and complex data sets much more effectively. Somehow 50 years ago, students had already protested against the deeply intertwined military mass surveillance of the internet, while today students only scathe the surface, not even aware anything exists beyond the memes and videos they watch.




But let’s take a step back for a minute: Why am I even reading a book? Why not listen to an audiobook or find some online article on the same topic if I’m such a Digital Native. The truth is, I prefer books when it comes to reading stories. One thing I find audiobooks and videos don’t have is the ability to set your own personal pace. For me, I set the pace similar to the speed I speak so that I felt more connected to the narrator but there are also many people out there who’s pace is double or triple that of mine. Another key reason I prefer reading is the page colour since white on black articles really hurt my eyes if I read them for long periods of time so the yellowed pages of books really help. So I suppose in this sense, I am a bit of a Digital Immigrant.

However, that’s not to say that I couldn’t read articles or short videos on this if I were to look for them. Articles and short videos do have the capability of random access but considering the immersion that a story holds, that may not be an advantage. In short, I believe that the immersion a paper book is capable of is superior to the selection of information that digital equivalents hold, which aids the understanding of the issues at hand.


If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!