In Self-Improvement, Mark Coeckelbergh provides a technological roadmap as to how we have started to see AI as a savior to make us better humans and why it cannot. As a reader you learn that the language and culture of oppression has led to individual ownership yet we are in need of an ecosystem approach. We need systemic societal shifts to occur. Although technology can be an aide to this transformation we need to see humanity to enact the improvements we yearn for. Great perspective.
In this philosophical work, Mark Coeckelbergh takes on the modern self-improvement industry. Showing the connections between neoliberalism and the current state of things, he argues for more collective approaches to self-improvement and shows real societal consequences for the go-it-alone approaches in vogue today.
A short but very deep read. This book will leave the reader with much to ponder--and maybe less to practice in the elusive quest for self-fulfillment that westerners spend billions of dollars a year trying to attain.
It's nice to read a concise, informed and contextualized criticism of our contemporary self-improvement culture. Mark Coeckelbergh provides a (very, very abridged) history of the idea of self-improvement, starting in the Ancient world, going through the Enlightenment, and coming up to our contemporary world. It's a useful bird's eye view: the trend towards wanting to improve oneself is neither entirely new, nor all that similar to its former incarnations, and the differences are worth considering.
Aside from this, he posits that capitalism has taken over this domain, exploiting those who want self-improvement in three ways: through directly selling them products meant to enhance said self-improvement; through shifting the responsibility for one's wellbeing entirely on the individual; and through exploiting the free labor of those who use apps and tech to track their progress and who thus donate their information.
The idea that our wellbeing is entirely in our own hands, he says, curbs the desire to revolt against injustice and to change the system.
(As an aside, it's nice to see a Marxist approach in the wild, with quotes from Marx, as opposed to hearing people cry "marxism" and seeing something that, maybe, could possibly, if you squint, and try really hard, might potentially be sort of marxist. It's become such an overused accusation.)
"Self-Improvement" becomes, then, not just an analysis, but also a call to action, to redesign our world to work in our favor, not in our detriment. Mark Coeckelbergh has a few suggestions regarding how this could be achieved, and while I don't always agree with the tone or the conclusions, his points are well made and worthy of consideration.