With each passing day, computer algorithms are increasingly controlling and directing our lives. The big tech companies have developed algorithms that touch every part of our daily activities. They dictate our search results, filter the articles in our news feeds, show us the products we didn’t even know we want (or need), recommend places to go, suggest who our friends are, tell us who we should date, and more.
In theory, all of these computer controlled algorithms are designed to optimize our existence, but what if things go awry? What if the algorithms are wrong? What would happen if they instead made a complete mess of things?
Set in the not too distant future, Qualityland is a satire that chronicles the quest a lowly individual, Peter Jobless, embarks upon to right what the algorithms have gotten wrong about him. Through a series of mishaps, the algorithms that rank every person in Qualityland have demoted our hero to the lowest level of society, a level where people are labeled ‘Useless.’ Since the algorithms control everything in one’s life, people are manipulated so they can only interact with people at the same level. This sets in motion a series of events in Peter’s life that leads to him receiving an unwanted product from the omniscient e-commerce website that predicts and sends people products before they even order them. Blocked from returning the product, Peter becomes determined to right the wrongs the algorithms have inflicted, even if it means upending the “normal” balance of society in Qualityland.
Throughout the story, Kling pokes fun at nearly all of the services that are ubiquitous in our daily lives, with e-commerce, social media, and dating sites leading the list. To make his point, he takes everything to the extreme to expose the self-serving motives of the big tech companies. Yes, the scenarios are outlandish. However, with each passing day, these scenarios are becoming less extreme and more plausible. In some respects, what Kling has written is a warning of the future if we let big technology continue to take unchecked control of our lives.
Qualityland is an interesting read. It lives up to its description of a satire of the near future. What I really liked about the book was how Kling wove into the story his view of technology and its impact on society. He could have written a long essay about the perils of unchecked technology. Instead, he wrote a depiction of a future world gone bonkers that had me laughing out load at times. In between the humorous bits, he inserted strong and well written commentary about the dangers of a world where the algorithms are in control.
Bottom line, Qualityland isn’t a book where you focus on the plot and character development. For me, these aspects felt thin and a little flat. On the other hand, it’s a very good book if you want a perspective on the danger of letting technology have free reign of our personal information, all wrapped up in a fun, light read.