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Cyburbia: The Dangerous Idea That's Changing How We Live and Who We Are [Hardcover]

James Harkin
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

5 Feb 2009

Once there was no text messaging. No email and no social network sites like Facebook, Bebo and MySpace. The way we live has apparently been transformed by new ways of communicating. But where did these trends start? And if they can change our behaviour, can they also change the way we think?

In Cyburbia James Harkin describes how the architecture of our digital lives was built over seventy years. In a brilliant narrative that encompasses the work of crackpots, inventors and visionaries, it shows how a concept that began with the need to shoot down German bombers has evolved to govern almost everything - from our lives online to modern films like Memento and 21 Grams, from TV shows and plays to military strategy. Gripping, revelatory and fiercely intelligent, this extraordinary book will change forever the way you think about everything you do.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown (5 Feb 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408701146
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408701140
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 951,525 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I'm a writer and social forecaster. I write for The Guardian, The New Republic, The Atlantic, Newsweek, the London Review of Books and have also written for The Economist. I also write books. Niche, my latest, is published by Little, Brown in the UK. Before that I wrote Cyburbia, and before that there was a book called Big Ideas, based on a weekly column I wrote for The Guardian newspaper in the UK.

I was born in Belfast and educated at St. Malachy's College Belfast, King's College London and Hertford College Oxford. Between 1996 and 1999 I taught and lectured in social and political theory at the University of Oxford. In 1999, I exited academic life to work as an analyst of global business, social, political and technological trends (or 'futurologist') at the think-tank The Intelligence Factory (then part of Young and Rubicam) in New York. Between 1999 and 2004 I worked full-time as a 'futurologist' for agencies in New York, London and in continental Europe. I also managed projects on changing social and technological trends as an associate of the London think-tank Demos, and authored a number of Demos pamphlets, including Mobilisation: The growing public interest in mobile technology, and Eternal Youths: How the baby boomers are having their time again. Since 1998 I'd been writing regularly on social, political and technological trends for British newspapers and magazines and in 2004 I became a writer for the Financial Times magazine. I've written essays, features and cover stories for the FT magazine, contributed to the comment pages on ideas and trends, interviewed everyone from Tom Friedman to Naomi Klein for the "Lunch with the FT slot" and reported for the FT from Beirut. Between September 2005 and October 2006, I wrote a column for The Guardian called BIG IDEA, and before that I wrote similar columns for The Times and the Financial Times.

I also talk. I've appeared on Newsnight, Channel 4 News and Sky News to talk about social and technological trends, and have lectured on political economy and social theory at Oxford University, the consequences of the internet at the LSE, and on the changing nature of film storytelling at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. I also talk for companies and organisations. I've delivered keynote addresses at the annual conferences of the Arts Marketing Association and Schroders Bank, for example, have led seminars at advertising agencies like McCann and participated in panel debates run by outfits like Editorial Intelligence. Between 2004 and 2009, in fact, I was on a part-time basis Director of Talks at the ICA in London. Speakers I invited to the ICA and hosted there included Malcolm Gladwell, Chris Anderson, Gerry Adams, Naomi Wolf, Boris Johnson, Antonio Negri, Amartya Sen, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Tariq Ramadan, and the late Anna Politovskaya.

Other stuff. I was the associate producer of Adam Curtis's three-part series about game theory, The Trap: Whatever happened to our dream of freedom?, which aired on BBC2 in March 2007. In the same year, I took second prize in the annual Sean O'Faolain short story competition in Ireland. My Big Ideas book was originally published in 2008 by Atlantic Books, and has now been translated into Korean, Spanish and Polish. My second book Cyburbia was published in February 2009 by Little, Brown and by Knopf in Canada. In the same year my essay "Caught in the Net" was re-published in Yale University Press's annual Best of Technology Writing book for 2010. My new book Niche was published by Little, Brown in March 2011. I was one of the associate producers of Adam Curtis's most recent three-part series about cybernetics and ecology, All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace, which aired on BBC2 in May 2011. I still work as a social forecaster, analysing and predicting trends at the intersection of technology, economy, culture and society for a new forecasting and strategic research agency called Flockwatching. In August 2011 I was one of the few journalists to report directly from the London riots; my report for The Guardian went around the world, and I talked about the impact of the riots on both BBC and NPR radio. For the last eighteen months I've been covering the conflict in Syria, for The Guardian, Newsweek, The Atlantic, The New Republic and a range of other newspapers throughout Europe; I'm also regular contributor to Radio 4's From Our Own Correspondent. My little book of reportage from Syria, War Against All, was published in November 2012 as a 'Kindle Single' ebook in the United States and around the world.

Product Description

Review

** 'Just what the doctor ordered for a world in thrall to the online revolution: a bracing, sharp-eyed examination of how technology and the ideas that drive it are reshaping every corner of our culture. A fresh, sane and fascinating look at how we are changing - for good and ill - in the age of the Net (Carl Honore, author of IN PRAISE OF SLOW and UNDER PRESSURE)

** 'In the seventeenth century the way humans conceived of the world was radically transformed by the new mechanical philosophy that used the machine as a metaphor. In this truly fascinating book James Harkin shows how our consciousness is being reshaped (Clive Hamilton, author of SCORCHER and AFFLUENZA)

** 'Fascinating . . . essential reading for anyone who needs to understand how communication between people is being impacted by technology, and how that technology is completely changing the way we live. In other words, this book is a must-read for everyone. It will change the way you look at society, your business and even your own life (Peter Sheahan, author of GENERATION Y and FLIP!)

James Harkin's elegant re-framing of our internet culture . . . Harkin makes a convincing case (Pat Kane, INDEPENDENT)

Review

`We are morbidly afraid of disconnection. It is, Harkin argues persuasively, both a wonderful and a sinister new stage in the evolution of human society'

Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
3.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Have you desperately conducted a last minute multi-million pound transfer deals on 'Fantasy Football Manager' or looked up the latest video of a kamikaze pet on 'you tube' at work, when your boss wasn't looking? If the answer to these questions is an empathic 'yes' then 'Cyburbia' by James Harkin is essential reading; 'Cyburbia' delves into the way global communication networks such as 'you tube' and 'facebook' have influenced the way we relate too each other at work and at play.

Harkin portrays the hippies, geeks and geniuses and who made the Internet happen. 'Cyburbia' is peppered with colourful examples that go from wacky to downright weird - did you know design of the humble computer mouse was influenced by military strategy and that it could in fact claim to be a distant relative of an anti-aircraft gun?

'Cyburbia' is brimming with many similar fascinating titbits, but much more than that and indeed this is the ultimate reason for reading this book is that 'Cyburbia' outlines a startling and prescient analysis of how digital information and communications have altered the way in which we shape our lives and everyday experiences. Although James Harkin does not have all the answers, and throws in the occasional red herring, his witty and punchy anecdotes writing style is extremely entertaining to read.

James Harkin's take on the trends and development of the digital society in 'Cyburbia' is a worthwhile read and comes highly recommended reading for any one like myself who finds the 'log off' computer command is almost akin to hearing the play ground bell at school signalling that 'play time' is over.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for technology novices like myself 6 May 2009
By IngridC
Format:Hardcover
"Cyburbia" is a must read if you are a technology novice like myself because it describes eloquently what direction the world we now live in is now headed.
The author has a knack for addressing (simply), breaking down and conveying to the reader very complex socio-technological ideas and how they affect our every day lives without us even realising it. When you sign on to Facebook do you even consider why you prefer to contact your friends in this way rather than just phone them or write them a letter? Do you know the origin of ideas that spawned Facebook, MySpace & Twitter? Thisook provides some of the answers. This should be recommended reading on any sociology higher education course.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars So bad it could be a parody 27 May 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Oh dear. where to start?

I guess it is an inescapable fact that our lives have changed and are changing at a time of breath-takingly fast technological change. All sorts of questions arise, are we changing because of the technology, or is the technology now able to deliver to our constantly shifting aspirations? How well was this forseen, as in, those who now seem to be at the top of the heap, was it their planning, luck, zeitgeist ... even then, technological brilliance, business acumen simply understanding how we humans want to interact? these are all questions which probably flash through most of our minds, along with many others, and it would be nice to think there are answers that we could understand, and even emulate or capitalise on.

Nice to think, but probably it will never unravel in such a simple way! Still, the debate is interesting and will continue ad infinitum. Sadly this book doesn't belong in that debate, it has nothing much to offer, besides a load of very familiar sounding waffle that goes on at the side lines of any fast-paced development in society.

Finding a few people who, decades back, predicted machines would be much more part of our lives and easier to use could ... at a stretch ... be called prophetic, it does not mean those people had anything causal to do with what is going on now, and so all the other stuff they blithered on about doesn't apply, unless you can find proper evidence of links. All we get anecdotes and a meandering biographical journey across "cybernetics", the ever shifting sands of radical anarcho/left movements, ayn rand and god knows what else.
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