Valuable insights on preserving our humanity in a digital world.

HOW TO FIX THE FUTURE

A leading critic of the internet finds encouraging signs of reform.

Silicon Valley veteran and GQ columnist Keen (The Internet Is Not the Answer, 2015, etc.) argues that “we humans must seize back control of our own fate” amid the “bewilderingly fast change” of the digital age. In this engaging, provocative book, he outlines five strategies—regulation, competitive innovation, consumer choice, civic responsibility, and education—that, working in collaboration, can help ensure an open, decentralized digital future. Drawing on nearly 100 interviews, the author describes the work of individuals around the world to counter the negative effects of “vast digital monopolies and the pervasive culture of online surveillance.” All illustrate his reform strategies in action. Keen’s bright overview includes conversations with innovators in Estonia and Singapore—international hubs of digital reform—who are working to re-establish trust and agency in cyberspace life; with Mitch and Freada Kapor, leaders of Oakland’s “ethical technology movement,” aimed at countering Silicon Valley’s “mostly corrosive indifference to the impact of its disruption on the world around it”; and with Hollywood producer Jonathan Taplin, who encourages musicians and filmmakers to resist new models and practices that deny them income. Cambridge philosopher Huw Price argues venture capitalists must “use moral criterion to determine their investments in the AI space.” While railing against “addictive apps like Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram” and Silicon Valley leaders “mostly lacking in empathy or responsibility” and devoid of “civic engagement” in their philanthropy, Keen celebrates such startups as an online networking platform that connects former prisoners with job opportunities. He also writes that Waldorf schools and other humanistic teaching traditions have key roles to play in reasserting human values. There is nothing new about his reform strategies, writes Keen; they have been used to meet earlier disruptions, including the 19th-century industrial revolution.

Valuable insights on preserving our humanity in a digital world.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2664-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2017

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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