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Book Review: The New Digital Age 68

Posted by samzenpus
from the read-all-about-it dept.
Nerval's Lobster writes "Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen begin their new nonfiction book, The New Digital Age, with a rather bold pronouncement: 'The Internet is the largest experiment involving anarchy in history.' Subsequent chapters deal with how that experiment will alter life in decades to come, as more and more people around the world connect to the Internet via cheap mobile phones and other devices." Keep reading to see what Nerval's Lobster has to say about the book.
The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business
author Eric Schmidt, Jared Cohen
pages 336
publisher Knopf
rating 7/10
reviewer Nerval's Lobster
ISBN 0307957136
summary A survey of how the coming technological revolutions could look.
The authors aren’t shy in suggesting that the Internet will ultimately change lives for the better. In fact, any other position would have been odd: Schmidt is chairman of Google, and Cohen director of Google Ideas. While they quote a number of very opinionated people throughout the book—including Henry Kissinger, who offers the realpolitik version of “Get off my lawn,” and Android designer Andy Rubin—the pair always come back to the same conclusion: that the cloud will grow, that the cloud will store more data, that the cloud will offer more features, that the cloud is good, good, good.

Of course, Schmidt and Cohen extolling the virtues of the cloud is like two corporate board-members of McDonald’s insisting that burgers are delicious and everyone in the world should eat them three times a day. They talk about data permanence and its effect on attempts to safeguard privacy, but they never suggest IT companies find a way to delete data in a permanent way (even though a number of entities are debating “right to be forgotten” legislation). They suggest that future governments could upload all their data to the cloud for safekeeping, but never really delve into the privacy and security concerns that would come with such a move. One wonders how much the pair’s respective tenures at Google, which profits enormously from data permanence and cloud storage, have affected their vision in these pages.

Indeed, the authors remain so wedded to their thesis—that the Internet will reach the majority of the world’s population in coming years, forcing massive but ultimately positive changes—that they end up making contrarian arguments at moments, depending on context. Midway through the book, for example, they suggest that the prevalence of mobile devices and the cloud will reduce the number of “massacres on a genocidal scale,” although “discrimination will likely worsen and become more personal.” Several pages later, however, the authors suggest that connectivity “encourages and enables altruistic behavior,” and that activism will increase when more people realize they can simply click or tap an onscreen button to contribute to a cause.

Smoothing out these colliding positions would have been a simple matter of acknowledging that human beings are complex, and that different groups will engage in wildly different behaviors with the same tools. But Schmidt and Cohen never dip into the human side of things, or explore the effect of technology on psychology; and as a result, the book at times feels disjointed.

They also fail to mention how the coming ubiquity of the Internet will flood the world with more data “noise.” Instead, they imply that all interactions are useful, regardless of the information being shared. “Activists in the future will benefit from the collective knowledge of other activists and people around the world,” they write at one point, without really digging into the main issue that comes with that connectivity: deciding which 1 percent of inbound “knowledge” is actually useful at that moment.

Along those same lines, they tout crowdsourcing as something that can “produce more comprehensive and accurate information, help track down wanted criminals and create demand for accountability,” without mentioning how such a tool can fail in spectacularly messy ways—witness what happened in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, in which the hive-mind on Reddit seized on innocent bystanders as suspects.

That’s not to say that Schmidt and Cohen avoid all the negatives that will surely come with the next generation of technology. They devote considerable space to the dank underbelly of the future Internet, from virtual “identity kidnappings” to state-sponsored cyber-attacks. Yet they never plunge into some of the thornier ethical and philosophical conundrums attached to some of those situations. Even the ramifications of drone warfare are largely waved away: “Asymmetric encounters in combat will continue to pose unpredictable challenges for even the most sophisticated technologies.” That’s pretty dry language for collateral damage and death.

The New Digital Age is worth reading as a survey of how the future could look. But it may leave you wishing for a book that explored, in a more thorough manner, the inevitable mess that the coming technological revolutions will leave in their wake.

You can purchase The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.
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Book Review: The New Digital Age

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  • Google has nothing to do with experiments in anarchy.

    Regardless of whether you prefer more socialist anarchists like Bakunin [wikipedia.org] or Kropotkin [wikipedia.org], or more individualist anarchists like Lysander Spooner [wikipedia.org], giant corporations running things is not really what anarchist theory has in mind as a good outcome. Large corporations are just another kind of organized power structure, which to anarchists is something to be opposed as much as governmental power structures are. In fact, corporations often take on government-like aspects when they get the opportunity to do so: homeowners' associations and company towns are two examples of the private sector reinventing municipal government through property and contract law. You can read Neuromancer or Snow Crash if you want to see where that ends up.

    • giant corporations running things is not really what anarchist theory has in mind as a good outcome

      I dunno, sounds a lot like anarcho-capitalism [wikipedia.org].

      • by femtobyte (710429)

        That's more an argument that anarcho-capitalism has nothing to do with anarchy --- they're just morons who give a free pass to massive accumulation of power, just so long as it is done on oligarchical rather than democratic grounds. I've seen one of the loudmouthed "anarcho-capitalists" on this site openly espouse *feudalism* as the natural and ideal organization of humankind.

        • I've seen one of the loudmouthed "anarcho-capitalists" on this site openly espouse *feudalism*

          How ridiculous. Here's clearly an advocate of anarcho-feudalism (hey, I just invented a political philosophy!).

          That's more an argument that anarcho-capitalism has nothing to do with anarchy

          Yes, there's a strong argument for that, but my pedantic side couldn't help responding to the OP's "giant corporations running things is not really what anarchist theory has in mind". Frankly there are so many schools of anarchist thought that they shouldn't be lumped together under the name anarchism.

      • by _Sharp'r_ (649297)

        Yeah, somebody seems to be confusing Anarchy with Spontaneous Order. [wikipedia.org].

        Of course, don't worry, the Feds via the FCC and Internet sales tax enforcement, etc... are working as fast as they can to impose their "planning" on it all for us.

      • I'll hold out for anarcho-monarchism.

      • by tehcyder (746570)
        Anarcho-capitalism has nothing to do with anarchism. It's just an example of extreme rightwing libertarians using doublespeak.

        It's like Hitler calling his party Natinal Socialists, when they hated actual socialists. It sounds better than "insane totalitarian thug party".

    • Anarchy is a social condition where (ideally) the only rule is there are no rules, the internet is the complete opposite. The infrastructure it runs on is the worlds largest machine, it covers the globe and simply would not work without international cooperation and compromise. It was born from academics cooperating to get stuff done, it was paid for by US taxpayers "cooperating" via their government. Anarchist may use (or disrupt) the internet these days but the "machine" it runs on would never emerge unde
      • by femtobyte (710429)

        Anarchy is a social condition where (ideally) the only rule is there are no rules

        That is an exceptionally poor summary of what anarchy is about. By this statement, it sounds like "there are no rules! I'm gonna beat you up and take your stuff! no rules!" would be an anarchist ideal. On the contrary, anarchy isn't about "no rules!" but about minimizing/eliminating structures of power/authority exerted over people --- whether the power of "big government," or the power of a muscular bully to beat you up. Depending on your stance among many different varieties of anarchy, this might require

      • by lgw (121541)

        Anarchy is a social condition where (ideally) the only rule is there are no rules

        Ancient Greece was a democracy, most of the time, but they recognized the need for strong central leadership in wartime, and so from time to time would elect an Archon to be dictator for the duration of the war. Usually followed by another war to unseat the Archon. "Anarchy" was those times with no Archon.

        Anarchy means "no leaders" not "no laws".

      • by tehcyder (746570)
        Whatever your opinion of the philosophy of anarchism, it is silly to say that it doesn't depend on cooperation.

        Anarchists disrupt the current government because they want to replace it with a system composed of volunteers willingly co-operating without any external power structure forcing them to.

        I think you've fallen into the trap of confusing anarchy with anarchism.

    • "Google has nothing to do with experiments in anarchy."

      Neither does the internet. The internet is regulated via a number of different routes. Some of them are governments, some of them are committees. But anarchy? HELL, no.

      Schmidt has proven over and over again that unless he's talking about search algorithms, you should not assume he knows just what the hell he IS talking about.

  • Anarchy? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 25, 2013 @05:00PM (#43550475)

    Don't hold your breath. Whether it's the US using the internet as a defacto imperialist tool (see the USTR's intellectual property bullying, Kim Dotcom's outrageous arrest, Assange's persecution, the DMCA affecting websites hosted outside the borders of the United States, ICE claiming jurisdiction over any site hosted under a TLD administered in the US, et al.) or countries around the world implementing their own wildly varying controls (the Great Firewall of China and soon Iran, the UK's libel lawsuits, super-injunctions and mandatory website blocking, Germany and a host of other European countries' copyright enforcement agencies, Japan blocking Tor, et al.), you can be sure that the internet will never be as free as we might wish it to be. With sales taxes rearing their ugly heads, the UN suggesting it has authority over internet regulation, IANA requiring legit whois information and ICANN auctioning off TLDs to whoever will throw them enough money, we are rapidly reaching a point in which a free and open internet is impossible. And this is all beside the point: a sizeable portion of the world, even in developed countries, cannot even access the internet, much less actually use the resources available, and are rapidly getting left behind in an increasingly-connected world.

    Dark, dark times ahead for the Information Superhighway.

  • Futurists (Score:2, Funny)

    by ebno-10db (1459097)
    Futurists exist to make astrologers look respectable.
  • Is the internet a bigger experement in anarchy than Mexico?
    • by femtobyte (710429)

      Mexico is an experiment in neoliberal policy (let free markets rule! power to the oligarchs!), not anarchy.

      Among the OECD countries, Mexico has the second highest degree of economic disparity between the extremely poor and extremely rich, after Chile

      (from Wikipedia on the Mexican economy [wikipedia.org]). Note, Chile is the other main right-wing product of US neoliberal intervention in South America.

      • by dzfoo (772245)

        Chile is the "other main right-wing product of US neoliberal intervention in South America"? Which is the first one? Or did they move Mexico before I got a chance to visit it?

        • by tehcyder (746570)
          For people outside the continent of America, anything south of the USA generally gets called "South America". I know that geographically Mexico is in North America, Ecuador in Central America and Chile in South America, but most of the time people (here in the UK at least) would class all three as non-USA and therefore South America.

          Similarly, no one except a geography geek would ever refer to Canada as North American.

  • by peter303 (12292) on Thursday April 25, 2013 @05:20PM (#43550633)
    you can if you have an ebook app and tablet, but not a browser.
  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday April 25, 2013 @05:34PM (#43550727) Homepage

    Schmidt has been flogging this book all over the place. I had to drop a Facebook group to get rid of all the promotion for this.

    From the excerpts I've read, this vision of the future is rather banal. It's a 1950s middle-management view of the future. Better collaborative PowerPoint-type presentations in the "cloud", better meeting and travel scheduling, stuff like that. In their future, people still wear suits, have meetings, and go to work, but in self-driving cars. It sounds like something AT&T and GM would have presented at the 1964 World's Fair.

    • From the excerpts I've read, this vision of the future is rather banal. It's a 1950s middle-management view of the future.

      I think the whole idea of the Internet as a transformative technology is overblown. It's nice, it's convenient, but compared to some of the truly transformative technologies we had in the 19th and first 50-60 years of the 20th century, it's a yawn. Many people don't appreciate how the railroad and the telegraph changed the world. We've had some improvements in transportation speed and communication bandwidth since then, but those were the truly transformative technologies. Steamships, electric power distrib

      • by Raenex (947668)

        I think the whole idea of the Internet as a transformative technology is overblown.

        And it's 20 years old. Seriously, 2013 and we're being treated to a book about how great the Internet is going to be? It happened.

        It's nice, it's convenient, but compared to some of the truly transformative technologies we had in the 19th and first 50-60 years of the 20th century, it's a yawn.

        I disagree. The amount of information at your fingertips is truly transformative. With a quick search I can find out information that may have taken several days to get before. You can achieve a college-level education by watching free online videos. I can communicate with people around the world.

        The ease of self-publishing is truly phenomenal. Traditional newspapers were brought

        • by swillden (191260)

          I think the whole idea of the Internet as a transformative technology is overblown.

          And it's 20 years old. Seriously, 2013 and we're being treated to a book about how great the Internet is going to be? It happened.

          I disagree. The Internet now exists in a fairly full-featured form, true.. Further changes in the technology are going to be incremental, at least in the developed world. But that just means the technology has stabilized, more or less. What comes next is the impact of that technology on the structure of society, and I think we're just beginning to see what that's going to be. Wait until the 30 and 40 year-olds, who make most of the economically and socially-significant decisions, are people who've never kno

          • by Raenex (947668)

            What comes next is the impact of that technology on the structure of society, and I think we're just beginning to see what that's going to be.

            I think it's brain-dead obvious, because there's already been huge impact. If I had to summarize what I've gleaned so far of Schmidt's book, it's "more of the same". We already have information at our fingertips, social networks, online shopping, online news, online gaming, free exchange of information, Internet companies, the "Cloud" as a commodity, etc. The Internet has pervaded everything.

            This book is even more pathetic than Gates' late to the Internet party book, "The Road Ahead", and that was published

            • by dzfoo (772245)

              Right.

              We had all that in the 1980s with BBS's (and some may say, better, but that's another argument).

              Yet, while dialing up to the local "information utility," reading e-mail from strangers half a world away, and accessing the expansive repository of some digitized library--all the time struck with awe and wonder at the fantastic "future" I found myself in, and dreaming of the things to come--I never EVER imagined it like the way it is now.

              I sure would not say that the Internet and the technology we have to

              • by Raenex (947668)

                We had all that in the 1980s with BBS's (and some may say, better, but that's another argument).

                It's a stupid argument.

                Yet, while dialing up to the local "information utility," reading e-mail from strangers half a world away, and accessing the expansive repository of some digitized library--all the time struck with awe and wonder at the fantastic "future" I found myself in, and dreaming of the things to come--I never EVER imagined it like the way it is now.

                True enough, and that's why I didn't pick the 80s, but 20 years ago. I meant to link to Eternal September [wikipedia.org] but forgot. By this time it was obvious the Internet was the next big thing, enough that when Gates came out with his book two years later he was already late to the party and stating the obvious after earlier downplaying the importance. For an "embrace, extend, extinguish" company, they were very late.

                Wake the FUCK UP, man, and look around!

                Err, you're talking to me? That's been my point. The "more of the same" comment

                • by dzfoo (772245)

                  Sorry, I mischaracterized your post after reading so many "Internet? Meh" posts already.

                  I agree, Gates and Schmidt are not really visionaries, and when they try to look beyond what they know, all they see is "more of the same," but at a more grandiose scale.

                          dZ.

        • by tehcyder (746570)

          You can achieve a college-level education by watching free online videos.

          No you can't.

          I mean, I'm sure you can if you're a genius. But if you're a genius you could just as easily teach yourself from books.

          • by Raenex (947668)

            No you can't.

            Yes, you can. Much of the material is from recorded classroom lectures. And if you need help, there's plenty available online from people who like to help teach others. The only thing a college provides these days is a certificate and flesh-space networking.

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      Schmidt has been flogging this book all over the place. I had to drop a Facebook group to get rid of all the promotion for this.

      From the excerpts I've read, this vision of the future is rather banal. It's a 1950s middle-management view of the future. Better collaborative PowerPoint-type presentations in the "cloud", better meeting and travel scheduling, stuff like that. In their future, people still wear suits, have meetings, and go to work, but in self-driving cars. It sounds like something AT&T and GM would have presented at the 1964 World's Fair.

      Yes, because in fact the internet will totally transform society, render capitalism obsolete and usher in a new world of unlimited universal wealth, an end to all physical constraints, and a chance for everyone to achieve Maslow's "self-actualization" as their only life goal. No one will have to do boring old work because there will be universal credit, free housing and food, and free trips by internet to Mars on holiday.

      I mean, look at Twitter! Facebook! It's like a revolution in human communication.

      • by dzfoo (772245)

        You know, if you squint your eyes and concentrate a bit, you'll notice that the Internet is bigger than Facebook, Twitter, and has a lot more than blogs and LOLcats (though, granted, porn comprises most of the non-LOLcat content).

        I don't agree that the Internet is a perfect environment, or the answer to all or even most of our problems, like some techno-utopians like to think. However, I also do not agree with those who cannot see beyond the banal facade of the fads du jour.

  • by guttentag (313541) on Thursday April 25, 2013 @06:14PM (#43550997) Journal
    Slashdot's book review guidelines (linked above in the summary) state:

    Important: If you have a relationship (other than as an ordinary reader) to the author or publisher of a book you're reviewing, disclose that relationship. This means not only cases like "My brother, the author, has given me a million dollars to type this review, and is holding me at gunpoint, while dictating to me from the Amazon review he himself wrote," but also "I used to work at this book's publisher, and was a technical reviewer for this book's three chapters on networking," or "The author is a good friend of mine." Better to disclose more than you think necessary (it can always be edited out if sensible; we'll let you know if we think there's an inappropriate conflict of interest) than less than actually necessary. If in doubt, please speak up.

    Yet the author of the review is a "Senior Editor at Slashdot," Nick Kolakowski [slashdot.org] (Twitter [twitter.com], Literary Gun For Hire [nickkolakowski.com]), who writes articles for Slashdot (and other places [huffingtonpost.com]) and apparently submits them under the guise of a "user" named Nerval's Lobster. Nerval's Lobster's submissions are "accepted" by the editors nearly every day, and always link to Slashdot's "Business Intelligence" or "Cloud" content... effectively passing off paid content as normal, user-submitted content.

    Two of the three links in the review are to Kolakowski's own "Business Intelligence" articles. The link to the book itself goes to Amazon and contains Slashdot's "Associates ID" [amazon.com] (slashdot0c-20) to ensure Slashdot gets a cut of any sales this review drives.

    Piece it together:
    1. A Slashdot employee writes a favorable (7/10) review of a book
    2. The same employee submits it under the guise of a normal reader (see the summary which ends with "Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here...")
    3. The editors post the review (because nearly everything "Nerval's Lobster" submits gets accepted by the editors, and it all links back to Slashdot paid content)
    4. Readers believe the review was submitted by a regular reader, and the huge wave of traffic invariably-driven by any Slashdot story results in a fair number of click throughs and purchases
    5. Slashdot gets a referral fee from Amazon for getting people to buy the book from them

    I have no problem with Slashdot staff writing a book review, as long as the relationship is disclosed, per Slashdot's own guidelines. I have no problem with a regular user writing a review and Slashdot making a few bucks by pointing readers to Amazon to buy that book. But he way they did it today makes it look like Kolakowski only wrote the review and the editors only accepted it because their employer is getting a kickback from Amazon. Making money is OK, but disguising paid content as user-submitted content is not. That's not what people come to Slashdot to find--it's a sleight of hand.

    Before you mod me down as a troll, consider that Kolakowski's review points out that one should take the business motivations of the book's authors into account when weighing what they have to say:

    Of course, Schmidt and Cohen extolling the virtues of the cloud is like two corporate board-members of McDonald's insisting that burgers are delicious and everyone in the world should eat them three times a day.

    Slashdot readers should be able to do the same with the authorship of stories and book reviews.

    • Welcome to The New Digtal Age.
      Just like all others ages that came before there are two different sets of rules for the elites and the commoners.
      The primary differences the Digital Ages offers are merely the ways in which said rules are subverted, abused, obscured, and/or exposed; And the fact you can now leverage artificial scarcity by confusing people about the economics of infinitely reproducible digital "goods"...

    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by johnwfran (250231)

      Thanks very much for this... I'd been wondering for some time how Nerval's Lobster go so many stories approved. Now I know. Figures.

      John

      • by guttentag (313541)
        It's interesting that you were modded down to 0 for thanking me for pointing out Nerval's Lobster's identity. My first post about Nerval's Lobster [slashdot.org] (April 11) was modded down to 0 as a troll within minutes. Someone modded it up again as insightful, and it was modded back down to 0, despite another 6-digit-UID user's reply "I wish I had mod points to give. Some asshat modded the informative parent post "troll" for some reason." There is apparently still a concerted effort to suppress this -- I wonder why they

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