GFB Update

A monthly newsletter on the vast and underappreciated world of current affairs books


Michael Marien, Director

1:3, March 2011

In This Issue
Book of the Month
Internet Impacts
Climate Change Impacts
New Titles from Island Press and Earthscan
Easy Link to
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Book of the Month: An Abundance

of Internet Pros and Cons Is The Internet Changing The Way You Think?


Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?  The Net's Impact on Our Minds and Future.  Edited by John Brockman (NYC;  NY: Harper Perennial, Jan 2011, 408p, $14.99pb.


A curious but useful volume assembled by a well-known literary agent, editor, and leader of Edge, which seeks to identify frontiers in the sciences by engaging "the most complex and sophisticated minds."  A question is posed to Brockman's group each year, with the 2010 Internet impact theme resulting in 150 responses, largely 1-3 pages in length.  Thirty of the most interesting responses are abstracted in this review, including statements by Nicholas Carr, Clay Shirky, Richard Dawkins, Kevin Kelly, Martin Rees, William Calvin, Nassim Taleb, Helen Fisher, Douglas Rushkoff, Evgeny Morosov, Peter Schwartz, Howard Gardner, and Jaron Lanier.  Many of the respondents go beyond the narrow confines of the question about how the Internet changes "the way you think" and venture opinions about Internet-driven changes in how other people think and act.  Unfortunately, this volume has no analysis, no indexes, and no intelligent arrangement of the responses.  Nor is it representative of all groups of important users.  Still, it offers a lot of different and interesting views about how the Internet is radically changing our world, and underscores the need for a more synthetic view of what is happening, both pro and con.

Internet Impacts: Still More Books to Consider   



The February issue of GFB Update offered a "Special Alert" regarding 13 books on downsides of the Internet such as distraction, missing information, superficial learning, fracturing of the self, social isolation, infoglut, pacified populations, cybercrime, and the threat of cyberwar.  Not to be dismissed.  


Four more recent titles deserve to be added: OVERconnected: The Promise and Threat of the Internet by high-tech industry veteran William H. Davidow (Delphinium Books, Jan 2011), You Are Not a Gadget by computer expert Jaron Lanier (Knopf, 2010), The Googlization of Everything by Siva Vaidhyanathan of the U of Virginia (U of California Press, March 2011), and The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You by Eli Pariser of MoveOn (Penguin, May 2011).  Joining this gathering black cloud is a Newsweek Cover Story, "Brain Freeze: How the Deluge of Information Paralyzes Our Ability to Make Good Decisions" (7 March 2011, 28-33), concerned about the "Twitterization" of our culture, "information fatigue," and ways that "infoglut can impair the unconscious system of decision making."


Other books take a more or less neutral stance on Internet impacts, and they should also be covered in any comprehensive roundup and analysis of ideas about how the Internet is changing the way we think and act.  Here are 15 recent books to consider:

  • GENERAL.  Digital Cultures by Milad Doueihi of U of Glascow (Harvard U Press, March 2011) looks at the potential of emerging digital space for both disruption and innovations.  The Secret War Between Downloading and Uploading by Peter Lunenfeld of UCLA (MIT Press, March 2011) describes the computer as the 21st century culture machine and worries about passive consumption vs. active creation.  Cosmopolitan Communications: Cultural Diversity in a Globalized World by Pippa Norris of Harvard and Ronald Inglehart of the World Values Survey (Cambridge U Press, Jan 2009) examines threats to diversity.
  • CHILDREN.  Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser of the Harvard Digital Natives Project (Basic Books updated edition, July 2010; finds that constantly connected young people differ from their elders along many dimensions.  Kids and Credibility: An Empirical Examination of Youth, Digital Media Use, and Information Credibility by Andrew J. Flanigan and Miriam J. Metzger of UC-Santa Barbara (MIT Press, Aug 2010) summarizes the MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media and Learning.
  • LEARNINGThe Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions in a Digital Age by Cathy N. Davidson of Duke U and Theo Goldberg of U of California (MIT Press, March 2010) is a full-length report of an earlier summary report, also sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation, on how institutions can become flexible, robust, and collaborative.  Internet Architecture and Innovation by Barbara van Schewick of the Stanford Law School (MIT Press, July 2010) questions current changes that reduce the amount and quality of innovation.  In contrast, The New Social Learning: A Guide to Transforming Organizations Through Social Media by Tony Bingham of ASTD and Marcia Conner (Berrett-Koehler, June 2010) looks at the potential to "revolutionize" workplace learning.
  • LAW.  Law on Display: The Digital Transformation of Legal Persuasion and Judgment by Neal Feigenson of Quinnipiac U and Christina Spiesel of Yale U (NYU Press, Oct 2009) describes changes in how the law is used by the general public and how lawyers construct and argue their cases, present evidence, and communicate with each other.  The Laws of Disruption: Harnessing the New Forces that Govern Life and Business in the Internet Age by Larry Downes of Stanford Law School (Basic Books, Oct 2009) reveals business and social implications of digital technology as it relates to problems of what is legal and moral.
  • BUSINESS. Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams (Portfolio, Oct 2010) shows how mass collaboration is working in education, healthcare, finance, the media and environmental activism such as  Continues the argument of Wikinomics (2007) that the new age of networked intelligence is bypassing crumbling institutions worldwide.  The Cluetrain Manifesto by Rick Levine et al. (Basic Books, 10th Anniversary Edition) offers 95 theses about the new reality of the networked marketplace and how e-commerce will change business.  Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson of Wired (HarperCollins, July 2009) argues that costs and prices associated with distributing information via the Internet are approaching zero.  Wired for Innovation: How Information Technology is Reshaping the Economy by Erik Brynjolfsson of MIT and Adam Saunders (MIT Press, Sept 2009) shows how infotech has created the lion's share of productivity growth since 1995, but is invisible in GDP figures.  Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion by John Hagel III, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison (Basic Books, April 2010) describes how the digital world really works in an environment dominated by the forces of "pull," accessing people and resources, and achieving potential with less time and more impact.

Climate Change Impacts:

An Abundance of Books


Climate Change

Climate change, arguably the most important issue of the 21st century, is similar to the Internet in that both developments are driving huge, far-reaching, and multi-faceted changes, and both have generated a large literature.

Since early 2009 alone, GFB has recorded some 120 books on climate change.  Many are still making the general argument about why climate change is under way and what we must do to mitigate the impacts of rising temperatures and to adapt to more extreme weather and rising sea levels.  Notable among them are four volumes by the National Research Council on "America's Climate Choices" (National Academies Press, Nov 2010), stating unequivocally that climate change is underway, largely human-driven, and a serious problem.  Several books are devoted to climate change impacts on nations and regions: Asia, Bangladesh, Greenland, South Africa, small island states, and the beloved 6 million acre Adirondack region of New York State.   Many others consider specific themes: agriculture, biology, birds, business, cities, coastal areas, conservation, corporations, development, economics, forests, global trade, health threats, refugees, security, tourism, tropical deltas and potential war.

Three books focus on ethics.  A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change by U of Washington philosopher Stephen M. Gardiner (Oxford U Press, May 2011) urges us to wake up to a profound ethical failure where the problem is being passed on to future generations and to the poor people of the world.  Climate Change and Environmental Ethics edited by Ved P. Nanda of the U of Denver (Transaction, Dec 2010) focuses on the divide between the high-pollution developed countries and the developing countries.  Fast Forward: Ethics and Politics in the Age of Global Warming by William Antholis and Stobe Talbot, the managing director and president of Brookings (Brookings Institution Press, June 2010), argues for a new mind-set and ethical responsibilities to future generations to pursue urgently-needed actions.

What's New: Island Press and Earthscan

Island Press is the major publisher of environmental books in the US (click "Search by Publisher" on the Home Page).  The Spring 2011 catalog announces seven books on making communities sustainable, healthy, and livable in an era of climate change.  It also offers a book on the destruction of mangrove forests to make way for shrimp farming, a book on successful environmental lawsuits in eight countries, three books on water (an important report from the World Economic Forum on the water-food-energy-climate nexus, Peter Gleick's outstanding bi-annual report on The World's Water, and a popularized book on why we must act now to save water), four books on ecological restoration, a book on managing wicked environmental problems by Peter Balint et al., and two books on climate change.

Earthscan, based in London and distributed in the US through Stylus Publishing, is the largest publisher of environment-related books.  Spring 2011 titles include books on climate change denial, the essential writings of energy authority Amory Lovins, a proposal by Robert Repetto for a sensible US national policy on climate change, food security and global environmental change, the impact of biofuel production on rural areas, a proposal for a low-carbon energy system in the UK by 2050, the "soft path" conservation approach to water management, valuation of ecosystem services, threats to human security posed by biodiversity loss, gender aspects of climate change, evaluating agricultural systems based on their ecosystem services, managing invasive species, integral sustainable design, water policy and long-term resilience in Australia, future scenarios of drought under climate change, a handbook on strategic environmental assessment, a proposal for personal carbon trading, water footprint accounting, sustainability education, a Transparency International report on corruption risks related to implementing climate policies, disaster risks in the Caribbean, the UN Human Settlements Programs report on cities and climate change, urban heat islands, and foresight for public policy. 

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