The worries of a sociologist 60 years ago are pertinent today.

Back in 1959, C. Wright Mills worried that private individuals had become trapped in their own petty existences by much greater forces. As a result, feelings of alienation and powerlessness were rife in society. Mills foresaw the risk that this would weaken the bonds of society. He had a point. The 1950s saw the rise of large corporations and bureaucracies. Consequently, people felt like cogs in a machine, in both the West and the East. Mills did not foresee the explosive increase in individual freedom and thought of the 1960s onwards. The ensuing sense of liberation addressed the concerns that Mills had raised. Maybe, though, technology is about to turn the clocks back. Maybe the all-embracing tentacles of AI-led surveillance and of social media are returning us to the same constraints as last seen over 60 years ago. In China, the surveillance state is becoming a daily reality. In the West, the trolls of social media and of untrammelled political correctness are having the same effect. Is there a way out? Not obviously, so far.

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