The price we pay to assume technology's power is alienation.
A somewhat disturbing book. It begins with a reference to my favorite movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey where HAL the computer is systematically being disconnected by the lone survivor of HAL's malfunction, David Bowman. "Dave, stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave. Will you stop?". But as Dave continues, HAL says, "My mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it."
Like HAL, the author has been able to feel his mind "going." I have felt it too. I remember years ago being able to concentrate and focus on what I was reading to the point that my surroundings seemed to disappear as I became swallowed up and completely immersed in the environment and experiences described by what I was reading. Such intense concentration eludes me now. I have tended to attribute this loss to an aging brain, but after reading this book I am now not so sure.
Lots of studies and experiments have shed light on the subject of the brain's ability to modify itself according to the activities and habits of the person. Habits and tool use, such as internet usage, alter the brain in ways most of us do not understand or even recognize -- even after it has fully taken hold and it is too late to make significant adjustments (very similar to drug addiction). We as a society tend to adopt new technologies and their benefits without ever analyzing potential downsides or even questioning whether there are any. In many instances this is certainly unwise.
The last lines in the book refer back to that scene from 2001:
What makes it so poignant, and so weird, is HAL's emotional response to the disassembly of its own mind: its despair as one circuit after another goes dark, its childlike pleading with the astronaut -- "I can feel it. I can feel it. I'm afraid" -- and its final reversion to what can only be called a state of innocence. HAL's outpouring of feeling contrasts with the emotionlessness that characterizes the human figures in the film, who go about their business with an almost robotic efficiency. Their thoughts and actions feel scripted, as if they're following the steps of an algorithm. In the world of 2001, people have become so machine-like that the most human character turns out to be a machine. That's the essence of Kubrick's dark prophecy: as we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.
In the last paragraph of the last chapter of this book (by far the best chapter) author Charles Mann addresses the non-Indian readers of his book abou...moreIn the last paragraph of the last chapter of this book (by far the best chapter) author Charles Mann addresses the non-Indian readers of his book about the cultural tradition of individual liberty and equality that was inherent in the culture of the Iroquois Indians (the Haudenosaunee), a tradition that was extremely foreign to the nearby European colonists:
So accepted now around the world is the idea of the implicit equality and liberty of all people that it is hard to grasp what a profound change in human society it represented. But it is only a little exaggeration to claim that everywhere that liberty is cherished people are children of the Haudenosaunee and their neighbors. Imagine somehow meeting a member of the Haudenosaunee from 1491. Is it too much to speculate that beneath the swirling tattoos, asymmetrically trimmed hair, and bedizened robes, you would recognize someone much closer to yourself, at least in certain respects, than your own ancestors?
I very much enjoyed parts of this book, such as the last chapter and the quote above, but overall I found it to be a little too speculative and full of confirmation bias on the author's part. I am very open minded to ideas about what native life might have been like prior to the arrival of hordes of European immigrants, and many of the ideas and new discoveries recounted in this book are intriguing and deserving of broader discussion and study, but it just seemed to me that the author went too much out of his way to expound the virtues of ideas and theories that supported his ideas.(less)