Book Review

January 16th, 2017   •   no comments   

Keep those brain cells active! Here are two titles to make you think: keeping you on your toes until we see you again in the New Year! They may not be hot off the press but, taken together, these titles will provide a yuletide feast for the intellect!

The Information

First published in Great Britain in 2011, The Information, by James Gleick, is a must read for students of the information age. And by that I mean just about everyone, because information is the life-blood of modern society. Digital, big data, algorithm, and meme are today’s watch words, and Millennials speak of little else, or so we’re told! But neither this generation nor the last invented information. It’s been kicking around since man first learned to grunt: what’s different now are the uses to which we put it.

Gleick’s book is a history of information. But if you think the current cohort was born into an information revolution, think again. Every generation had has its own information revolution building on the last. From the word, to writing; compilation of the first dictionaries to the charting the oceans; and the invention of morse-code, the telegraph, and the telephone. The capture and transmission of information has progressed inexorably through the centuries. There have been paradigm shifts aplenty, but arguably none bigger in the modern era than the invention – within months of each other – of the transistor and the bit.

The transistor was the red hot hardware invention of 1948: the bit – defined by Claude Shannon as “A unit for measuring information” – followed close on its heels. Between them both inventions accelerated our understanding and usage of data to warp-speed!   What came next was the rapid advance in computers only dreamed of by Babbage and Turing; the onward march of digital technology; and the dawning of robotics and artificial intelligence that threaten to shape our world for good or ill.

The Internet is NOT the Answer

Over the last couple of decades the developed world has enthusiastically embraced the internet as the way forward in both work and business. Many of our predictions for the future of employment are predicated on its existence, and the ordering of society has fallen into step with its demands. Andrew Keen is one of those who questioned this new orthodoxy early on. In his book, The Internet is Not the Answer, first published in paperback in the UK in 2015, he asked us to re-examine some of the unintended consequences of our lemming-like dash online.  As an early adopter and internet entrepreneur he knows of what he speaks.

Keen’s argument was that, ‘rather than creating transparency and openness, the Internet is creating a panopticon of information-gathering and surveillance services in which we, the users of big data networks like Facebook, have been packaged as their all-too-transparent product’. Outcomes – or so his argument ran – included the empowerment of the mob, intolerance, and bullying; the creation of a self-centred culture of voyeurism and narcissism; the enrichment of a tiny self-appointed minority; and the compounding of collective rage.

No doubt, when he sat down to write his book, Keen’s views would have been regarded as the doom laden pronouncements of a modern Jeremiah. But the last couple of years have seen a shift in the public mood towards the ‘internet revolution’. The zeitgeist has shifted. Many commentators now cite the Internet’s impact on unemployment, inequality, and ubiquitous surveillance with scepticism. What may once have been regarded as reactionary is the new orthodoxy. Governments the world over are calling time on the wild west of Uber and Airbnb, and starting to question the societal effects of the ‘sharing’ and ‘gig’ economies.

Michael Hoare

Editor

Association News (Edition 249: December 2106)

The Information, by James Gleick: published in paperback by Fourth Estate, ISBN 978-0-00-722574-3

The Internet is Not the Answer, Andrew Keen: published by Atlantic Books, ISBN 978-1-7239-343-6

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