Sunday, October 8, 2017

Review of Doug Hill's Not So Fast: Worth Reading, Not Too Quicky

 photo Not So Fast_zpsdbrxn5pv.jpgI've had an advance reading copy on hand for quite some time of Doug Hill's Not So Fast: Thinking Twice about Technology, and I guess, given the title, who could object to my taking so long to read and review it?  But I've slowly been reading and reviewing two other books - Grant Wythoff's The Perversity of Things and Rob Sheffield's Dreaming the Beatles - and, anyway, now that I've finished Not So Fast, I can tell you two things about it:  I strongly disagree with its premise and just about every argument Hill makes in the book, and I recommend it.

Now, it's rare that I would recommend a book with which I disagree, but it happens.  Before I tell you why, let me tell you why I disagree with this book.   I'm a technological optimist.  Not because I'm ignorant of the many critics of technology Hill cites in his book, but because I've read them all and found them wanting.   The critic often thinks the optimist is ignorant, but the optimist can just as often be a critic of the critic.  In my case, though I don't preach the singularity or any kind of technological utopia, I think technologies help us fulfill our human goals on multiple levels.  I've been saying this since my doctoral dissertation, Human Replay: A Theory of the Evolution of Media (New York University, 1979), which was recently put up on Amazon.

Unfortunately, Hill overlooks the most reasonable pro-technological arguments, and relies instead on quasi-mystical futurists as his opponents.  And sometimes he misrepresents a seminal thinker such as Marshall McLuhan, for example, who didn't turn from pro-technology with the global village to critic of technology with discarnate man as Hill says.  McLuhan instead insisted that he never made value judgements, and indeed his global village had beds of roses with plenty of thorns.

So, why, then, am I recommending Hill's book?  Because I think it's important that we continue to discuss and strive to understand the nature and impact of technology, which is what Hill does in Not So Fast.  I also think it's important to draw into the discussion ancient philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle, and modern practitioners ranging from Edison and Ford to Steve Jobs.  (Indeed, I think touching base with such minds is so important that I frequently include them in my science fiction.)  It's also good to see outright critics of technology ranging from Jacques Ellul to Langdon Winner given such play, if only to offer avenues to students of all ages who are new to the game of fathoming technology.

But in the end, as the Nobel laureate biologist Sir Peter Medawar liked to say, what's most human about us is our technology, which means that to oppose it with a tone or implication of apocalypse amounts to despairing of the human condition itself.

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