Tag Archives: sociology

Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other – Sherry Turkle

Technology is seductive when what it offers meets our human vulnerabilities. And as it turns out, we are very vulnerable indeed. We are lonely but fearful of intimacy. Digital connections and the sociable robot may offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. Our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other. We’d rather text than talk.

This is a very thought engaging book, looking how communication technology changes our social interconnections. It is more than social media, the book looks at how people text instead of talk, hide behind an avatar, interact in video games, comment anonymously, have virtual pets and number hundreds of online friends.

In the first part, the book focuses more on social robots and how they help people: the elderly, to deal with attachment, loss of friends and isolation, children being in other countries or cities; and the children, for whom social robots are virtual pets. In the second part, the book looks at social networks and how mobile communication technologies are affecting human communication today.

An insightful book on social robots and the effect of mobile communication technologies and social media on human communication

The book is a well-researched, well-reasoned account, much based on interviews, of the changes that communication technology brings on social level. Some things are well-known, such as the profundity of the communication diminishes with the distance and complexity. For example, text says less than a phone call, and both less than a video. But there is more to that: a letter takes time and thought, while a quick SMS, which is also a text, gives much less information to receiver.

The author, Sherry Turkle, is an MIT technology and society professor, specialized in the effects of these new communication technologies and social robots on humans. She writes in consecutive books on these topics and the results of her interviews. You can watch some of her ideas on TED Talks as well.

In a way, the author long anticipated the problems with fake news, cognitive bias and confirmation bias that we are confronting today. She looks systematically at what could be the root causes of these dangerous symptoms.

This is a book that I  really recommend reading for the insightful conclusions that her interviews show.

[Feature photo by Fraser Smith]

Childhood’s End – Arthur C. Clarke

Man was, therefore, still a prisoner on his own planet. It was much fairer, but a much smaller, planet than it had been a century before. When the Overlords abolished war and hunger and disease, they had also abolished adventure.

Childhood’s End is a good scifi from the accomplished author Arthur C Clarke. It starts with a sudden arrival of some aliens, just after the second world war. They bring peace and prosperity, but never disclose their reason to come to Earth. The book ends somewhat surprisingly, into a kind of transcendence for humankind.

childhoods-end
Quality scifi writing

Although written in 1953, the book keeps pace with current development and innovations, which shows the, what proved to be correct, vision of the author for the future.

The plot has several twists, a couple of stories being intermingled, but the narrative is kept straight and easy to follow. The anchor of the book are the aliens and the slow progress towards the inevitable end. It reminded me of the more recent series of Harry Turtledove (Colonization – also on this website).

The book is an easy read and imaginative enough to be an entertaining scifi almost 70 years after writing.

While I enjoyed reading the book, I think it could have explored more the excellent plot lines developed. A solid reading overall.

[Featured picture by ITU Pictures]

The Future of Almost Everything – Patrick Dixon

Over $5.3 trillion of currencies are traded every day, yet nations like the Philippines, Peru, Poland or the UK hold less than $80bn in reserves to defend against speculators. Enough to last only a few days.

The book is trying to identify future trends, developments that human society might take. Dixon considers that there are six main future trends, conveniently named: Fast, Urban, Tribal, Universal, Radical and Ethical (FUTURE).

Patrick Dixon has a lot of guessing and the arguments he shows are shallow. There are so many statements that some will certainly turn true.

future-of-everything
Guessing the future

Nonetheless, he is intriguing and has a good grasp of what is happening in the world. It makes a good overall read and challenges the reader. However, I did not feel that he bring anything new, all being trends that exist already and are extrapolated into the future.

Patrick Dixon is a professional futurologist, having a company specialized in this niche, with many reputable international clients. He writes often, on various subjects.

The style of reading is very fluid and it follows very neatly the logic of each chapter or trend. It make a good read overall, but not exceptional.

[Feature photo by Kristian Bjornard]

Shadow work-the unpaid, unseen jobs that fill your day – Craig Lambert

Shadow work will grow. It rewards businesses and organizations in ways that are irresistible. No capitalist can refuse a chance to cut those heavy personnel costs by transferring jobs to customers who work for free. As shadow work merges into our daily routines, it will affect social habits, economic patterns, and lifestyles.

This amazing book by Craig Lambert discusses the many small jobs that fill the day, uselessly tiring a person and keeping it in constant stress. From the self-check out to cleaning your own table , from the meaningless coupons and small reduction cards to freely creating content by posting reviews (TripAdvisor, GoodReads), the author gives many examples of work that keeps us busy, without actually creating significant value-added.

The phrase that I loved most was: if you are not paying for the product, you are the product. Think of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others.

shadow-work
Is your time precious?

The book has some parts where the author rather rants and does not make clear that some of this work is to save money. Nonetheless, it is often forgotten that time is the most precious resource and the author correctly notes that people prefer giving time for money rather than money for time.

Craig Lambert makes the reader think of how much content and personal information, he/she is giving for free. Reviews, grading, customer experience surveys, likes, are all commercial information freely given. It has a huge success: Facebook, Uber, AirBnb, Quora, Booking.com thrive on the free work done by customers, giving their own time.

The book is a good read for everyone tired at the end of the day and wondering why. Some enjoy doing the volunteering job, others just get caught in a whirlpool of small tasks.