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BUSINESS BOOKS

Review: Overconnected
 

Author William H. Davidow writes about the role of the Internet in magnifying problems.

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The Book:  Overconnected: The Promise and Threat of the Internet by William H. Davidow, Delphinium Books, Hardcover, January 2011.

As we move from an industrial era mindset that new technologies have made obsolete, our ability to be plugged in and instantly connected has introduced us to unpredicted challenges and dangers. Recent books like The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, Clay Shirky's Cognitive Surplus, and Kevin Kelly's What Technology Wants all look at the way technology affects the way we think or have actually recreated how we think.

The title of this book, Overconnected, could lead you to believe that this is a book about email, iPhones and the other distractions that seem to direct our modern lives. Instead, author William Davidow is more concerned about how strong connections, instead of idyllically solving problems, have worked in the other direction:

Strong connections, it turns out, have only magnified the problems, turning local problems into national ones and national crises into international ones. Now, as all other forms of interconnections have improved, and as those interconnections have grown more robust thanks to the Internet, society is increasingly subject to interdependencies—not always for the better.

Being connected has certainly made us more efficient. But there's now the risk of reacting so quickly that we don't give the thought we might have given to our actions and reactions even twenty years ago. Looking at the 2008 financial crisis, Davidow writes:

It is impossible to really understand what went on in the worldwide economic crisis of 2008 without examining the role that the Internet played in supercharging it. Without the Internet, the credit mess would have undoubtedly caused a recession of some magnitude. While we can never measure the Internet's full effects, we know that it made the current crisis larger, more widespread, and more virulent. It not only carried the information, it helped spread what is known as a "thought contagion." That is, the rate at which greed and fearmongering took place—via instant access to news and online rumors—was accelerated to unprecedented levels.

This is a book that takes a serious and scholarly look at world-wide technological change. He gives us the history of the Internet and then uses the economic crisis in Iceland as a case study. This is a book that will be talked about for years to come, written by a person who is not lamenting our loss of time but warning us of the larger new threats being overconnected brings into our lives.

Reviewer Jack Covert is the founder of 800-CEO-READ, a leading bookseller to corporations and large organizations, based in Milwaukee.

Last updated: Dec 13, 2010




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