FUTURE PERFECT by Steven Johnson


The Case for Progress in a Networked Age
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Forceful argument for a new politics modeled on the structure of the Internet.

As the title suggests, bestselling science writer Johnson (Where Good Ideas Come From, 2010, etc.) is a proud optimist. He believes that most problems facing us are soluble and only becoming more so, thanks to new patterns of social relations that increasingly mirror the organization of the Internet. Johnson coins the term “peer progressive” to describe an outlook that favors building the kind of society where power is distributed more or less equally among a self-regulated network of peers, who are free to contribute to the greater good according to where their strengths lie. (Think Wikipedia writ large.) Borrowing from Frederick Von Hayek, Johnson views heavily centralized organization as the enemy of progress. He cites Hayek’s critique of the star-shaped rail system of 19th-century France as an example of raw power put to poor social use; on the other hand, Prussia’s organic weblike system enabled it to efficiently transport troops and materiel via rail, without fear of the bottlenecking that plagued the French system. But unlike Hayek, Johnson argues that capitalism is prone to its own failures (a prime example being its inability to produce cheap HIV/AIDS drugs), particularly when practiced by top-down, hierarchical corporations that are just as self-deluding and corruptible as centralized government. The greater part of this slim but idea-packed book looks at how, even as older institutions with concentrated power are failing us, peer-to-peer networks are already having positive impacts on local politics, activism, journalism, education, elections, businesses and even the arts. Johnson praises new approaches to problem-solving like Kickstarter, which enables artists to connect with patrons willing to contribute small amounts en masse; Whole Foods and employee-owned businesses that spread power and rewards throughout the organization; and New York City’s much-imitated 311 telephone service, a virtual two-way problem-solving system between citizens and public officials.

A thought-provoking, hope-inspiring manifesto.

Pub Date: Sept. 18th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-59448-820-7
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Riverhead
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2012

Kirkus Interview
Steven Johnson
October 6, 2014

In How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World, Steven Johnson explores the history of innovation over centuries, tracing facets of modern life (refrigeration, clocks, and eyeglass lenses, to name a few) from their creation by hobbyists, amateurs, and entrepreneurs to their unintended historical consequences. Filled with surprising stories of accidental genius and brilliant mistakes—from the French publisher who invented the phonograph before Edison but forgot to include playback, to the Hollywood movie star who helped invent the technology behind Wi-Fi and Bluetooth—How We Got to Now investigates the secret history behind the everyday objects of contemporary life. View video >


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