I got this book for a library school essay; it's not the type of thing I normally read! The book could easily have been subtitled "what's wrong with American society". I think the book the author was trying to write though was what's wrong withI got this book for a library school essay; it's not the type of thing I normally read! The book could easily have been subtitled "what's wrong with American society". I think the book the author was trying to write though was what's wrong with Americans. Her premise seemed to be because Americans spent too much time multi-tasking and distracted their culture was doomed and going to die unless people started learning how to focus, and (unsurprisingly) one way was Buddhism's mindfulness! She spent a lot of time talking about the "neuroscience" of what happened to a person's brain in these different situations, and how this was bad, and how increasing concentration was good. Of course she's an author and journalist without a background in neuroscience and, as someone with only a degree in psychology, what she was saying didn't make any sense. She'd try to explain brain processes, but then not say what that actually corresponded to. Not to mention the problems she was discussing were cultural phenomena, and so needed a cultural answer, not an individual one.
I did think the book started fairly well. It was an enjoyable criticism of the way modern society works. How we spend all our time doing many things at once, and how everything seems to be dummed down. My favourite part was when she had a 10 year old talk about how they liked using power point because it was easier to write without any detail and you didn't have to know what you were talking about. She compared the innovations of today's society with that of Victorian times, and made some nice comparisons between the two (partly unintentionally explaining the interest in steam punk amongst modern geeks). However, sayings how society today was like society in the 19th century didn’t really further her argument that there would be a coming cultural dark age.
In fact she did little to justify this at all, mostly just pointing out how bad things were. She also failed to address how a dark age of American society would be affected by the fact that we are now living in a global society, or how many of the problems she was talking about could be found in other cultures. This was obviously a book designed by an American, for Americans, with little consciousness of the outside world, except when European history was needed.
After the first few chapters focusing on technology, and how families spend no time together anymore, there was a chapter on the evils of fast food, in particular drive throughs, and "nomadism" the fact that people spend lots of time travelling everywhere (particularly be plane). I found this chapter the most irritating. It seemed to make no judgement for class or economic status. I wasn't sure how eating out all the time impacted a distracted state, rather than simply an unhealthy one. And I really don't think most Americans spend all their time on airplanes travelling back and forth for business and pleasure. (Of course when talking about how this was bad the environmental impact was not mentioned once).
The "evils" of technology chapters were quite strange too. The first talked about how parents used technology to spy on their kids. Putting up cameras in their rooms to record them, which I found really creepy. The other example was a guy who banned his 12 year old son from the internet for a year, because the dad thought one of his son's friends might be a paedophile in disguise. This struck me as SUCH bad parenting. You don't ban a kid because you think he might be in trouble, you explain the dangers to them and educate them so they can make better decisions. He then put in parental spyware on the computer so he could ban all sites that he didn't think were appropriate for his son including ones "with heavy metal music" (dear gods!) The other part was talking about how AI and robotics were being developed. She seemed offended that the idea that robotic animals could be used as surrogates for actual relationships, or to build empathy. As many pop-cultural references as she made, the fact that she neglected to talk about the exact use of the robot pets to build empathy in Do Androids dream seemed quite odd. Her point seemed to be that we liked robots, or identified with them too much, and that was bad. (Though if sci-fi has taught us anything it's that not liking the robots and treating them poorly is what leads to rebellion).
While complaining about how kids were getting dumber and the lack of good education she was scathingly critical of attempts by universities and university libraries to increase information literacy (how people are taught research skills). She dismissed this out of hand as being outdated, similarly to her dismissal of teaching critical thinking. When surely teaching critical thinking and information literacy skills are exactly the two solutions to fix the problems of attention and ignorance that she is complaining about (travel and fast food would need a different approach). (228 179 and 163)
It wasn't a totally bad read, the style was engaging and she quoted from all sorts of people that I liked and enjoy reading. But I felt that her overall arguments were flawed and her solution to the problems presented was inappropriate. Still there were some good quotes to include in my essay so it was worth reading. ...Continua Nascondi