• BOOK REVIEWS 2020

    As the Christmas season fast approaches, let me recommend to you two of the best books I’ve read so far this year.

    Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together documents our rapidly developing love affair with technology over the best part of four decades. Starting with the simple digital and robot toys that required us to nurture them in the 90’s and progressing through to the much more sophisticated versions of the 21st century, the first half of the book is dedicated to our relationships with technologies that create the illusion of needing our care. The second half is all about how smartphones, social media and a distinct tendency to prefer text-based communication over anything to do with the voice might be leaving a generation feeling overwhelmingly hyperconnected, but at the same time entirely alone, in the grand scheme of things. A real page-turner: this book is a story beautifully told, but which might leave you chilled to the bone in terms of the potentially dire prospects for today’s digital natives – those who never knew a world in which the ineluctable lure of technology hadn’t yet reached fever pitch.

    Fast forward 10 years and Mary Aiken’s sizzler The Cyber Effect takes a cybercrime-infused adventure into the dark side of the internet. I found it utterly absorbing, from start to finish. Cyber-migration, the phenomenon where cultural norms establish themselves on the internet and then leak back into the real world, helps to explain why trying to protect yourself from the negative impacts of technology on the world around us by burying your head in the sand is probably not going to pay dividends. So long as the masses are utterly absorbed by the internet then the culture of real life is changing around you, whether or not you yourself participate online. Aiken also provides a pretty thorough account of why giving smartphones to children at a younger and younger age is likely to result in not just tears, but probably also disruption of “normal” brain development through the infant years and beyond. I thought I had already researched this area quite thoroughly a couple of years back, but there is a huge amount of brand new material here. As the author points out: it’s such a fast-moving area and the devices that people use change so quickly, that conventional scientific research techniques simply don’t work, so it’s harder than ever to get a handle on what’s actually happening. If a sketch is all we’re likely to get, then this one threw a lot of things into sharp relief for me. Covering a broad range of fascinating subject matter and daring to dip into topics that other authors might shy away from; this book genuinely blew me away…

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