Book Review: How is the Internet Changing the Way You Think? The Net’s Impact on Our Minds and Future Book Review: How is the Internet Changing the Way You Think? The Net’s Impact on Our Minds and Future

How is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?How is the Internet Changing the Way You Think is an assortment of essays from Edge.org, a community of knowledgeable minds on the way they think about the internet.

From the scientifically dense to the socially enlightening, this book was a literal experience of the diversity of the virtual world. It is a collection of complementary, contradicting, entertaining and at times technically baffling opinion pieces. As noted in Kevin Kelly’s contribution,

“For every accepted piece of knowledge I find, there is within easy reach someone who challenges the fact. Every fact has its anti-fact.”

Like any eclectic collection there is something for everyone – the writing is littered with anecdotes, insights and moments of sheer delight.

For the latter, one need only start at the opening essay, where W.Daniel Hillis explains the common error between the internet as a network and the services that it enables. Targeting Tom Wolfe’s observation that all the internet does is speed up the retrieval and dissemination of information, the rest Wolfe proclaims is “Digibabble”, Hillis then makes the wonderfully memorable reference to the advent of electricity and how many only saw it as a purveyor of electric light. Noting that a few dreamers would have speculated that electricity would change the world with some curmudgeon stating that electricity is light and the rest is Electrobabble.

Then, apart from the rather dubious lament for the demise of the fax machine Brian Eno’s discourse on things he’s noticed is memorable: “I notice that the desire for community is sufficiently strong for millions of people to belong to entirely fictional communities, such as Second Life and World of Warcraft,” he writes. “I worry that this may be at the expense of First Life.”

In contrast other contributors are undisturbed by the possibility of a virtual future. “Large-scale communal games such as Second Life will become disconcertingly addictive to many ordinary people who understand little of what goes on in the engine room,” predicts the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. “And let’s not be snobbish about that. For many people around the world, ‘first life’ reality has few charms, and, even for those more fortunate, active participation in a virtual world is more intellectually stimulating than the life of a couch potato slumped in idle thrall to Big Brother.”

You can easily move between essays looking for your favourite commentators by name, discipline and profession. Like jumping through your online search results and hyperlinks to find snippets of interest and validation, digesting and reflecting the content then moving onto the next website.

The sense of randomness that this reviewer initially encountered when reading the text led to an insight that this book is best experienced the way you would review, aggregate and share information on the internet. Find the bits you enjoy, reflect on the essayist’s stance and share the memorable bits with those around you.

At worst you could be tagged an insightful geek or more positively you could spark a conversation. Conversations that Clay Shirky hopes will shift the internet from a socially obsessed narcissistic high school with a modicum of education to an Invisible College, the communicative backbone of real intellectual and civic change.

“Without a discipline of knowing what matters, we will merely amuse ourselves to death.” – Paul Saffo

How is the Internet Changing the Way You Think? is published by Atlantic Books.

An assortment of essays from the Edge.org a community of knowledgeable minds on the way they think about the internet. From the scientifically dense to the socially enlightening, this book was a literal experience of the diversity of the virtual world. It is a collection of complementary, contradicting, entertaining and at times technically baffling opinion pieces. As noted in Kevin Kelly’s contribution “For every accepted piece of knowledge I find, there is within easy reach someone who challenges the fact. Every fact has its anti-fact.”
Like any eclectic collection there is something for everyone – the writing is littered with anecdotes, insights and moments of sheer delight. For the latter one need only start at the opening essay, where W.Daniel Hillis explains the common error between the internet as a network and the services that it enables. Targeting, Tom Wolfe’s observation that all the internet does is speed up the retrieval and dissemination of information, the rest Wolfe proclaims is “Digibabble”. Hillis then makes the wonderfully memorable reference to the advent of electricity and how many only saw it as a purveyor of electric light. Noting that a few dreamers would have speculated that electricity would change the world with some curmudgeon stating that electricity is light and the rest is Electrobabble.
Then, apart from the rather dubious lament for the demise of the fax machine Brian Eno’s discourse on things he’s noticed is memorable: “I notice that the desire for community is sufficiently strong for millions of people to belong to entirely fictional communities, such as Second Life and World of Warcraft,” he writes. “I worry that this may be at the expense of First Life.”
In contrast other contributors are undisturbed by the possibility of a virtual future. “Large-scale communal games such as Second Life will become disconcertingly addictive to many ordinary people who understand little of what goes on in the engine room,” predicts the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. “And let’s not be snobbish about that. For many people around the world, ‘first life’ reality has few charms, and, even for those more fortunate, active participation in a virtual world is more intellectually stimulating than the life of a couch potato slumped in idle thrall to Big Brother.”
You can easily move between essays looking for your favourite commentators by name, discipline and profession. Like jumping through your online search results and hyperlinks to find snippets of interest and validation, digesting and reflecting the content then moving onto the next website.
The sense of randomness that this reviewer initially encountered when reading the text led to an insight that this book is best experienced the way you would review, aggregate and share information on the internet. Find the bits you enjoy reflect on the essayist stance and share the memorable bits with those around you.
At worst you could be tagged an insightful geek or more positively you could spark a conversation. Conversations that Clay Shirky hopes will shift the internet from a socially obsessed narcissistic high school with a modicum of education to an Invisible College, the communicative backbone of real intellectual and civic change.
“Without a discipline of knowing what matters, we will merely amuse ourselves to death.” – Paul Saffo

One thought on “Book Review: How is the Internet Changing the Way You Think? The Net’s Impact on Our Minds and Future Book Review: How is the Internet Changing the Way You Think? The Net’s Impact on Our Minds and Future

  • Amar Trivedi

    Top book review, Patrick. Enjoyed it immensely.

    I get the sense this book holds much diverse thought between its covers. It seems to contain views/ reviews coming from a wide & varied group – just like the Internet! Also… I love the term “digibabble”.

    Thanks also for the reading tip: This book is best read a random!
    I just added it to my reading list.

    Keep on, Patrick. You’re a blogstar!
    Cheers,
    Amar
    ps: I’m borrowing the book next – look what your review has done:)

    Reply

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