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Devices of the Soul

 
 
Khethil
 
Reply Thu 25 Feb, 2010 02:44 pm
Devices of the Soul
Battling for Our Selves in the Age of Machines
Steve Talbott
ISBN: 0-596-52680-6
Publisher: O'Reilly Media., Inc.

OVERVIEW: The wheel, the pump, the plow, the iPod, the television, the automobile; These are some examples of technology - tools that have enhanced, enabled as well as changed humanity inexorably across the grandest of scales. What are their effects? Not in terms of good and bad per say, but in gaining are we also losing? This is the goal of Talbott in this book - ideals, consequences and technology's overall effect on humanity. Did we ever think to ask, "Should we?" or are we down a road that says "We can, we will!" and in so doing, rush blindly? This book is thought-provoking, in the extreme wherein the author - using a myriad of examples and resources - teases out the bigger questions of the Human/Machine equation. It's well written in modern-ese and nicely organized by chapter, theme and subchapter. For the social philosopher, it'd label this a definite read.

PROS:

  • Many insightful aspects of the human/machine aspect of our lives revealed
  • Author is very intuitive on the effects of automation on social behaviors and structures
  • A very thorough examination of the proliferation of computers-in-the-classroom
  • Expertly illustrates the tendency of many to invent and automate "just to do it"
  • Technology for Technology's sake is laid bare - hard questions asked
  • Openly acknowledges technology's benefit; where errant, the author doesn't blame the tool, but the apparent over or mis-use


CONS:

  • The author goes down many "tangents" that seem to have little or nothing to do with the theme being discussed at the time - patience is advised
  • Does little to anticipate and counter the inevitable opposition by "wave of the future"-acolytes
  • While the section on Technology/Education is extensive and thoughtful, I sense a hefty axe-grinding session; becoming tiresome with repeating themes at the time.


HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Personal responsibility and the allure of Toys (pp16)
  • Blowdart -vs- the Shotgun (pp19)
  • Cultural Decimation from the Inside (pp31)
  • We in Nature (pp47)
  • Chickadees (pp35)
  • Limitations Make us Human (pp95)
  • The World of the Real (pp115)
  • The Need for Physical Connections (pp119)
  • It Rains Saltwater (pp128)
  • Educational -> Techno Questions (pp 133)
  • Educating -vs- Info-shoveling (pp149)
  • Technology: The Means or the End? (pp195)
  • Celebrating the Machine (pp195)
  • The Evil in all Us (pp201)
  • Loss of Self through Technological Infatuation (pp202)
  • The Automated Kitchen (pp218)
  • Tech Advances - Evaluating in Context (pp222)
  • Neighborhood and the Television (pp224)
  • Greed for its Own Sake (pp241)
  • "Privacy", "Community" Online (pp258)
  • Capitalism's Effects and the Individual (pp245)
  • Corporate America Driving Change (pp251)
  • Immersion in Technology (pp264)


NOTABLE QUOTES:[INDENT]"We can't externalize the good as well as the evil, vesting our hopes for good in gadgets and technical machinery "out there". This, too, is a gesture of self-forgetfulness, and it is no less dangerous than the externalization of evil. In both cases we recast the struggle within ourselves as a purely external drama... The whole idea of technology, really, is this externalization of a part of ourselves - our muscular activity, our speech, our logical constructions. This is perfectly fine as long as we recognize these projections for what they are - mechanistic aspects of ourselves - and as long as we bear responsibility for them. This, however, is exactly what we are not doing..."
[/INDENT][INDENT]"... the technical achievement just must translate into a social good. There is no equivalent standard formulate that routinely acknowledges the risks of the new development. There is no recognition of the difference between solving a problem and contributing to the health of society. Yet solving problems is one of the easiest ways to sicken society. A technical device or procedure can solve problem X while worsening an underlying condition much more serious than X..."
[/INDENT][INDENT]".... elements I refer to are already there for those willing to see them: for example, the ongoing scientific reconceptualization of the world and the human being as some sort of computational machinery, and the inability of children, by the time they have grown up, to experience an organic and deeply motivating connection between themselves and the larger society, or between themselves and the physical world."

[/INDENT]MY RATING: 7.5
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