Interview: Big Tech, Nostalgia, and Control – Grafton Tanner’s ‘The Circle of the Snake’

Grafton spoke with We Are The Mutants about nostalgia, Easter egg marketing, Big Tech, and his latest book, The Circle of the Snake. Read the interview here.

TANNER: And yet, as many were loudly critiquing Big Tech for its role in throwing elections, spreading fascism, and worsening mental health, the culture industry was churning out politically retrograde nostalgia-bait. Was it really that the techlash had made everyone even more nostalgic for the pre-digital past? Or was there some kind of connection between nostalgia and Big Tech? 

The Circle of the Snake: Nostalgia and Utopia in the Age of Big Tech – Available Now

Grafton’s latest book, The Circle of the Snake: Nostalgia and Utopia in the Age of Big Tech, is out now wherever books are sold.

Shocked by 9/11, the Great Recession, digital anxiety, and ecological collapse, the West suffers from nostalgia. People everywhere yearn for a utopian version of the past that never existed. Desperate for relief, many long to escape from the present. Some will stop at nothing to achieve it.

In his essential new book, Grafton Tanner, author of Babbling Corpse: Vaporwave and the Commodification of Ghosts, argues that our nostalgia today is partly a consequence of the attention economy. At a time when historical literacy is crucial, and old prejudices are percolating into the present, Big Tech’s predictive algorithms are locking us into nostalgic feedback loops. The result is a precarious society with its gaze fixed on the good old days.

Spanning from the ancient Sophists to Black Mirror, The Circle of the Snake is at once a reckoning with the myth of digital utopia and an incisive analysis of nostalgia as a weapon to spread fascism.

“Whether it is dissecting the utopian fantasies of Big Tech gurus, revealing the political economy of the nostalgia industry, or uncovering exploitation in the global division of digital labour, The Circle and the Snake is just the guide we need to navigate, resist, and transform the online world. In precise, accessible prose, Grafton Tanner offers a much-needed vision of democratic alternatives to surveillance capitalism.” Vincent Mosco, author of The Smart City in a Digital World

“In an age of platform capitalism in which state power is transformed by Big Tech conglomerates who exercise increasing power over our movements, thoughts and ideologies, Grafton Tanner finds a way out via critique. Our particular brand of capitalism is best understood through a nostalgia industry which it uses to sustain itself, Tanner shows. Everything from popular culture, politics and music to fashion, TV and videogames can be seen as bound up with forms of nostalgia inherently connected to our economic conditions. By understanding nostalgia, Tanner lays bare our ideologies and confronts not only the historical development of capitalism but the particular condition of today’s digital corporate world.” Alfie Bown, author of The PlayStation Dreamworld

“In a world where it is suddenly impossible to disconnect, to log off, Tanner’s work deserves redoubled consideration.” Ryan Alexander Diduck, author of The Limits of Control