Mark Coeckelbergh, Self-Improvement. Technologies of the Soul in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, Columbia University Press, 2022
We are obsessed with self-improvement; it’s a billion-dollar industry. But apps, workshops, speakers, retreats, and life hacks have not made us happier. Obsessed with the endless task of perfecting ourselves, we have become restless, anxious, and desperate. We are improving ourselves to death. The culture of self-improvement stems from philosophical classics, perfectionist religions, and a ruthless strain of capitalism—but today, new technologies shape what it means to improve the self. The old humanist culture has given way to artificial intelligence, social media, and big data: powerful tools that do not only inform us but also measure, compare, and perhaps change us forever.
This book shows how self-improvement culture became so toxic—and why we need both a new concept of the self and a mission of social change in order to escape it. Mark Coeckelbergh delves into the history of the ideas that shaped this culture, critically analyzes the role of technology, and explores surprising paths out of the self-improvement trap. Digital detox is no longer a viable option and advice based on ancient wisdom sounds like yet more self-help memes: The only way out is to transform our social and technological environment. Coeckelbergh advocates new “narrative technologies” that help us tell different and better stories about ourselves. However, he cautions, there is no shortcut that avoids the ancient philosophical quest to know yourself, or the obligation to cultivate the good life and the good society.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Coeckelbergh is professor of philosophy of media and technology at the University of Vienna. His many books include AI Ethics (2020) and Introduction to Philosophy of Technology (2019).