Nov 9, 2010

eBook Review: Future Minds by Richard Watson

Future Minds: How the Digital Age is Changing Our Minds, Why this Matters and What We Can Do About It
Note:  Although I reviewed an ebook version I can only seem to find the paperback for sale.

I must admit to approaching this book with a skeptical eye.  Technology coverage, especially when it concerns the internet, Facebook, Twitter computer games, is rarely good, mostly sensationalized and misconstrued.

I am also skeptical when anyone is making claims about the future.  Lots of people, even experts in their field get things wrong when they try and look too far ahead.

Ever so slightly relieved
Which was why I was relieved when Richard Watson pitched this book in his introduction as 
a book of concepts and conversation starters, with 10 key trends as a unifying force
So the book is no so much a fortune told but thoughts and questions to consider. The book is split into three parts:  How the Digital era is changing our minds? Why this Matters? and What can we do about it?

How the Digital era is changing our minds?
This part of the book looks at the effects of the digital world on those who are experiencing it as a normal part of everyday life.  Watson labels these children or teens as  'Screenagers' and talks about the subtle shift in attitudes and social existence brought about, by instant connectivity, always available distraction and entertainment. 

Not to mention schooling and education.  Why bother memorizing facts and remembering the events that lead to World War II when its all available at the press of the button.  Watson sees the digital age as altering fundamentally how we experience understand and remember the world.  

His concern, is gently presented and he cites a number of examples of the digital world encroaching on our young.  From Australia's push to get computers into school, to give every child a laptop to the ever present and ever distracting social networks.  

But its not just concerns brought about by online interactions as opposed to communicating in the 'real world'. Watson is concerned that exposing children to the logic of computer devices and educational programs has an effect on the formation of the human brain and one that may be detrimental to creative play and the development of certain areas of the brain.

The rest of us don't escape that net either, and Watson cites a study where the constant interruption bought about by digital devices and connectivity can have a similar effect on our thinking as that brought about by the use of marijuana. 

Why this Matters?
This section focuses on the loss of the ability to think deeply about important matters, how ideas and innovations arise, are nurtured and  go on to create and impact.  Watson discusses the need to create natural thinking spaces, to disconnect from the connected digital world even for a short period of time to allow our brains to mull over (mostly subconsciously) new ideas, problems, solutions.  In an always on world we are overloading and overworking our brain, keeping it constantly occupied.

What can we do about it?
Its only fair that if you point out a serious problem, you offer some suggestion as to what the solution or remedy might be.  Watson does this in the final section of the book.  Most of his ideas involve separating yourself from digital connection and distraction for periods of time. 

Not going into work early just to check everything alright, not constantly checking the blackberry while your on holiday with your family.  It's hardly groundbreaking stuff, but it's advice followed by very few. 

Watson rounds off the book with 10 predictions some of which are straightforward and others which I think may be a bit of a long shot.

My thoughts
The book paints some broad strokes, but on the whole is generally convincing.  The skeptic in me wants to go back and look through his comprehensive bibliography. 

I can see, however, the effects of screen culture on students who I com across as a relief teacher.  They display the ability to use several computer programs to construct a research assignment, but little understanding of the cut and pasted material that they place in it.

And likewise I can feel my own attention span dwindling as I flick from work to, twitter, to email, to a web article  and back to work again.

So at least, anecdotally I am with Watson on many of his suggestions.  That's not to say I will be running out in the street like some neo-Luddite.  But as the book suggests I can see myself  slowing down ever so slightly and be thinking a little  more deeply about where the digital age is taking me and what its doing to me along the way.

If anything I think the trends he has outlined deserve closer examination.  Do we really need to be outfitting all our classrooms wit state of the art touch screens.  What value does being constantly connected to Facebook and Twitter bring us.

Watson has an easy, conversational tone, the book was quite pleasurable to read


Amazon:  Future Minds at $13.46 + P&H
Book Depository: Future Minds at $19.48 all inclusive

Hardcover & Ebook

Disclaimer:  This review is based upon an an advanced reading copy ebook provided by Nicholas Brealey Publishing through Netgalley at no cost to myself.


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