The Bagel Effect: A Compass to Navigate Our Wired World


295 pages
Contains Index
ISBN 0-07-552923-8
DDC 658.4'06




Illustrations by Eli Kassner
Reviewed by Dave Bennett

David Bennett is the national director of the Department of Workplace Health, Safety and Environment at the Canadian Labour Congress in Ottawa.


In this book, Hoffert seeks to demonstrate that the advance of digital
computer technology results in a shift of social power away from central
administrations to individuals at system edges. He produces a wealth of
examples from different sectors allegedly demonstrating this Bagel

He first sets up a dialectic—the forces of central authority,
protected markets, regulation, and bureaucracy versus the supposedly
opposing forces of democracy, individual rights, free trade, anarchy,
local authority, and free enterprise. The results are two serious flaws
in an otherwise intriguing book.

The first flaw is that the deck is arbitrarily stacked to prove
Hoffert’s main contention. The two most spectacular social successes
of the Internet were its use in defeating the Multilateral Agreement on
Investment (MAI) and in derailing the Millennium Round of the World
Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle in 1999. Yet these were arguably
collective successes in the name of democracy against free trade and
deregulation, a categorization that Hoffert’s framework cannot
accommodate. The successes reinforced the very phenomena that digital
technology is said to undermine.

The second flaw is one of omission. For every case of liberating
success, we can find one of social control confiscating individual
rights: the electronic pacing of work, electronic surveillance, huge
dossiers on individuals in private hands, appalling labor conditions at
computerized factories, and so on. There is some undoubted truth in the
Bagel Effect. There is also a counterrevolution. Perhaps the deepest
flaw is a common one among techies—the assumption that the information
society has replaced industrial society, rather than merely overlaying


Hoffert, Paul., “The Bagel Effect: A Compass to Navigate Our Wired World,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 29, 2024,