My natural inclination is toward technological optimism, and toward quantitative research. This book doesn't have much of either. As I began the book,...moreMy natural inclination is toward technological optimism, and toward quantitative research. This book doesn't have much of either. As I began the book, I found myself arguing with Dr. Turkle's assumptions and the obvious coloring that her preconceived ideas gave her research. I longed for objectivity and proof.
While I still think that Dr. Turkle's arguments would be bolstered by a more objective, data-based approach, I began to see the value of her research. She writes about mothers who pay more attention to their phones than to their kids, and kids who are hurt because a robot doesn't respond to them. These sorts of stories really do relate something about our relationship with technology that pure data can't.
I do think that the book is intentionally pessimistic, however. Positive examples of people interacting with technology were few and far between. Even though we all experience the positive effects of technology daily, Dr. Turkle very nearly ignored any positives, potential or realized, and focused on dangers and problems.(less)
I really, really liked this. It is a moving, heartbreaking examination of the inescapable reality of death, and how viewing silly many of our life dec...moreI really, really liked this. It is a moving, heartbreaking examination of the inescapable reality of death, and how viewing silly many of our life decisions look when viewed through that lens.(less)
This was a wonderful book. Henry Eyring is an Apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the intended audience is certainly membe...moreThis was a wonderful book. Henry Eyring is an Apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the intended audience is certainly members of that church, but I think that anyone can benefit from the lessons, advice, and insights given.(less)
This is a good an important book. Benkler's first(?) book, "The Wealth of Networks", was too dense to be accessible, and "The Penguin and the Leviatha...moreThis is a good an important book. Benkler's first(?) book, "The Wealth of Networks", was too dense to be accessible, and "The Penguin and the Leviathan" is much better in that regard.
Benkler's key claim is that people are motivated much more by non-monetary influences than we thought. We have always known that people aren't fully self-serving, but we treated homo econimicus as a close enough approximation to reality. Benkler claims that systems and organizations that reject this premise not only provide a better environment for those involved, but can produce better things.
He gives the examples of Google giving employees a huge amount of autonomy, or the creation of Wikipedia, Linux, etc. In every case, people are motivated by much more than just money.
Unfortunately, I found the book a little bit jumbled - there wasn't a clear narrative structure or direction. That being said, this is still definitely worth reading.(less)
This was an interesting review of the current status of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (i.e., that the language we speak changes the way that we perceive...moreThis was an interesting review of the current status of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (i.e., that the language we speak changes the way that we perceive the world). Too much of the book focused on the history of the idea, and too little about more recent research, but that is probably because there are only a few good examples. This would have been a great magazine article, but making it into a book was stretching the material too far.(less)
This was a wonderful book. Mr. Pinker is a wonderful writer, and he presents his message with craft and persuasion.
The key thesis of the book is that...moreThis was a wonderful book. Mr. Pinker is a wonderful writer, and he presents his message with craft and persuasion.
The key thesis of the book is that all of the messages that we hear about how the world is going down the tubes - becoming a more violent, scarier place - are wrong. He convincingly argues that every form of violence - interstate wars, homicides, spousal abuse, rape, etc. - has declined dramatically, and is at or near an all-time nadir.
Once he has the reader convinced of this point (and let me assure you, dear reader, he will have you convinced), he discusses some of the reasons for this wonderful trend.
Many of them are fairly straightforward - people let a strong, fair government have a monopoly on force instead of settling their disputes by feuds or vengeance; nations (or people) that trade with one another have more to lose, and are thus less likely to go to war; etc.
He also brings up some ideas that are less defensible but very thought-provoking. For example, he claims that people have an internal discount rate - when the future seems risky or uncertain, we are less likely to do things that will pay off in the future, and more willing to take risks that will pay off now (e.g., at the margin, people are more likely to rob a house and less likely to have a retirement account). This creates a feedback loop - when more people in an area are willing to "live risky", that makes the world more risky for everyone else, changing their discount rate as well, and making them live riskier (i.e., more violent) lives. The flip side of this is that as a society becomes less risky, this feedback loop quickly makes individuals more willing to invest in the future, and less likely to engage in violence.
The other idea that I really liked was that the Enlightenment prioritized Reason as a means of knowing, both epistemologically and morally. He claims that IQ scores have been rising dramatically ever since the test was invented, and that is primarily because we have learned to think more and more "scientifically". Reason causes us to see things from a disinterested perspective, ignoring our own biases as much as possible.
This trend leads to what Pinker calls an "escalator of reason". It can be summed up as the idea that Reason has a sense of morals - something like "everyone should be treated the same". This argument was first applied just to white men. Reading the slaveholder Thomas Jefferson's claim in the Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal" and endowed with the rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" seems hypocritical, but the escalator of reason works one one group at a time. Once the arguments of reason were used to claim that kings were no better than everyone else, the reality that all white men were created equal became common knowledge, and the divine right of kings became indefensible. Then, the escalator took over. Once you have prioritized logic, in order to argue that kings are no different than commoners, there are no more arguments left as to why white people are better than their African slaves, or why men are better than women, etc. Once you step on that escalator, Pinker argues, it is difficult to get off.
He makes some other interesting arguments about the potential for this period of peace to continue, but wisely notes that past performance is no guarantee of future results.
These trends, however, are real. The book is very, very long, but I highly recommend it.(less)
I began reading The Book Thief before I got frustrated and started Unbroken. I was frustrated with The Book Thief's use of silly platitudes to try to...moreI began reading The Book Thief before I got frustrated and started Unbroken. I was frustrated with The Book Thief's use of silly platitudes to try to feign insightfulness (one egregious example is her claim that Hitler gained influence partially because Germans love burning things).
Unbroken, on the other hand, is incredibly researched, and insights come from the facts, and not from the author's silly interpretation of them.
The story the Hillenbrand tells is fascinating, and her telling of it is masterful. WWII has been the source of so much writing, both fiction and non-fiction, and I was wary of yet another book about the period. However, it really was a time that displayed the extremes of human depravity, but also human resilience, courage, and strength. It has been mined deeply already, but Hillenbrand has proven that there are still rich deposits to be excavated.
I think that I must enjoy disliking books that everyone else likes, but I didn't love this. It felt like the author was trying to be far too clever. I...moreI think that I must enjoy disliking books that everyone else likes, but I didn't love this. It felt like the author was trying to be far too clever. I kept getting angry at the author for his nonsensical metaphors and descriptions, and highlighting the more egregious examples on the Kindle along with notes like "What?!" or "Grr!!" was cathartic.
Here are a few passages. If you understand them, enlighten me:
Or like a timetabled train, arriving at a nightly platform, pulling the memories behind it on a rope. A lot of dragging. A lot of awkward bounces.
Next to the wall, The Standover Man sat, numb and gratified, like a beautiful itch at Liesel Meminger’s feet.
Her wrinkles were like slander.
His beard was a ball and chain.
Some of them kind of make sense, if you really stretch your imagination, but it felt like they were really just Mr. Zusak's attempt to sound "artistic". I found the idea of Death as the narrator similarly silly.(less)
I really enjoyed Everything is Obvious. Watts's thesis is that "common sense" is a wonderful tool for making sense out of what has happened, but that...moreI really enjoyed Everything is Obvious. Watts's thesis is that "common sense" is a wonderful tool for making sense out of what has happened, but that it is not good at grasping the true reality behind complex things.
As an example, he talks about how we refer to "the market" in near-human terms, saying things like "the market reacted to the Fed report" or "the market fell because of bad housing data". These explanations simplify things far too much - "the market" is a huge, complex system of people, businesses, and machines, and can't be condensed (in general) into these summaries. They are, rather, a way of making some sense of what happened. If they truly captured something of reality, then they would have predictive power - that is, the next time that bad housing data came out, we could predict that the market would fall approximately the same amount. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way - the cause and effect isn't that cut and dry.
Another example that I loved was that of a sociologist who told his students that during World War II the soldiers from rural areas adapted to the war much better than those from urban areas, and asked his students to think about why. They suggested that it was common sense - they were used to waking up early, working hard, going without luxuries, etc.
Only it wasn't true. In fact, urban soldiers fared much better. Our mind is just so good at thinking up explanations to fit what we think we know, and these explanations quickly pass into "common sense". Dr. Watts argues that we need to question common sense more often, and that we are living in a technological age where that is becoming more and more realistic.(less)