Interview With Jason Benlevi


Jason BenleviJason Benlevi is my sister-in-law Sharon Weiss's brother, who currently lives in California. He has been involved in the world of technology most of his life and recently completed a book called Too Much Magic," which defines what “being digital” actually means to the average person and cautions about a rising concentration of power that has now overtaken both the personal computing revolution and the previously open culture of the Internet. Jason was kind enough to agree to be interviewed for The Women's Book Reviews website.

Hi Jason, welcome to The Women's Book Reviews. Please tell us a little bit about yourself. I believe you grew up in New York, so what brought you to California?

I was a preschooler, so I really had no choice in the matter. My mother thought Los Angeles was heaven on Earth. On this we eventually disagreed. So when I was turning 18, I decided that I was either headed back to New York or off to San Francisco. I am very comfortable in both places, but totally alienated from L.A., a place I never belonged. It is a cliché to say it – but it is a place of massive human disconnection, vapid commercialism and insularity. But I have friends there who love it. Certainly the beaches and Mexican food beat any place else in the country, but I needed more than just that.

Tell us a little bit about your family.

In my immediately family I find myself disagreeing with them on most political issues and lifestyle choices. I was a rebel kid who ran up against the grain. That didn’t go over well. I was comforted in some web searches that I’ve done recently on my more extensive global family and found a pattern of writers, artists and musicians on both sides of my family. So there is something genetic going on.

At what age did you become interested in technology?

I can’t remember ever NOT being interested in technology. I was always taking things apart to see how they would work…and in terms of reading when I was a child, encyclopedias were my books of choice…especially when they had diagrams that showed how things worked. Later I liked reading history and politics a great deal. And I’ve had this duality of being a creative type and a tech geek my whole life.

Is this your first book? Do you have another one in the works?

This is my first complete book, but I have been a full-time writer for my entire adult life…but so much of it was work-for-hire. There are two other books in the works. One regarding technology and the public education agenda, the other is on patterns in politics and media that have caused us to pursue, shall we say “phony wars” that play on our fears, while doing harm to our real world circumstances.

There seem to be a lot of books lately raising alarms about the Internet, what’s different about your book?

Too Much MagicWell, really there are two things that are different. Firstly, the digitization of our lives is a much broader issue than just the Internet…and there is a tendency in most books to narrow the discussion down to just one issue, say privacy, or education. Too Much Magic is a much more holistic approach that shows how all these digital touch points connect into an ecosystem that is more pervasive, and actually invasive.

Secondly, most books on tech culture are really an inner dialog among academics, marketeers and the digerati class, and they are a set of debating points, the kind of stuff that makes the authors great candidates for industry conferences, but often is just academic. They really are not addressing the human experiences of digital life the way that the rest of us are living it. This book is very inclusive and intuitive for people to understand. When I read the book to people I see a lot of heads nodding.

So do you just generally take a dim view of tech? Is the magic all dark?

Let me be clear, I am a long-time lover of technology, I’m just not thrilled with the models that are evolving that have become more focused on monetization… and what are actually trivial applications of tech…basically turning every aspect of digital life into just one more way to target people with advertising. We can do better.

The Cult of Tech makes it sound rather conspiratorial. Isn’t that a bit farfetched?

Not a conspiracy, but certainly an alignment of self-serving and mutual interests. That’s what the cult of tech is really about. Like the financial industry, it has become extremely self-serving and seeks to intimidate those that are not “in the know.”

The self-promotion is pretty shameless. Such as the game designer telling us that “reality is broken” and only gameplay can save us. Which is just an absurd notion given that the game industry has unleashed social dysfunction on an unprecedented scale…and the games are really unimaginative. Sure the graphics get better, but the gameplay is the same as it was 20 years ago. Shooting and driving. Braindead. And now our movies are starting to look like games.

With most development these days focusing on social media, do you feel that it actually has any value?

I think it has huge value for people to maintain connections with friends and associates…the troubling thing is that companies like Facebook are more interested in mining your social life to target you with ads than in creating a good experience. Also, as in the dotcom days, the circus is in town, and there are newly minted social media “experts” who have never actually done any work other than promote themselves, their books and conferences via social media.

But you yourself have been involved in the Tech industry and continue to be?

That is true, but it has changed. Originally the digital revolution was about Macs and PCs breaking us away from big computing…”the cloud” is really a return to the bad old days of centralized services. There are also huge social dangers from people feeling that they need to be constantly connected or they have anxiety attacks.

Technology can solve a lot of problems, but the technologies often get too far out in front of the sociology. That said, I am still optimistic. If I wasn’t I wouldn’t have bothered writing the book.

What final message would you like to leave our readers with?

As much as we might admire the wonders of science and technology… and are in awe of those who do this amazing and difficult work, we have to remember that science takes money and that scientists are usually eager to make that faustian deal…and rationalize it. We as citizens need to do a better job at filtering what new “panaceas” are headed our way. Plastics looked good at the time, nuclear energy looked good for a while…but in our rush to the next new thing we create social and environmental costs that may outweigh the benefits of these technologies. We need to be more circumspect than in mindless awe.

You can read more about Jason and his new book, "Too Much Magic" at

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