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on 19 April 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a good, 'easy read' from an American writer who sees the future in terms of peer to peer networks, as typified by the internet, where there is a free, [supposedly] anarchic exchange of- and access to- information that shapes 21st century society for the better. He writes this system large to encompass the operations of societies outside of cyberspace but, of course, still inextricably linked to it.

I liked this book but there was a growing unease reading it that we had here another US neoliberal 'libertarian' trying to adopt leftist anarchist principles and moulding them to their own- still power-down capitalistic- agenda. That's my personal feeling anyway. Whatever this is an engaging book, well-written and with some thought provoking ideas, just be prepared to read between the lines a little...
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VINE VOICEon 21 November 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a very easy (and relatively quick) read about an interesting topic. The underlying premise is a sound one in principle but the delivery is rather lightweight and superficial; and there is a lack of rigour to the author's analysis and argumentation. The tone and style of writing is almost conversational - more that of an extended magazine article than a carefully crafted and persuasive book. The author is occasionally sloppy in his use of terminology; for instance his notion that computers can be `embodied'. I would have had more confidence in the book's content if the author had displayed evidence of having engaged more effectively with a wider range of literature on knowledge sharing structures and processes. That said, this is an important area and the book should provoke debate.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
What is the best way to make progress? How can we, human beings, come up with the best ideas and solve scientific problems? What's the best way to run a country and how much say should the ordinary individual have in what laws are passed? This book raises some intriguing and important questions for all of us and provides some fascinating examples of how people are developing some very creative solutions to some of the problems of modern living.

Democracies elect people to enact laws on their behalf but can you imagine a situation where you as an individual could actually vote on which new laws you want? How would you feel about having much more of an individual say in how your local council's budget is spent in your neighbourhood? This is what has happened in one city in Brazil and it has resulted in a huge improvement in the standard of living for the poorest in a city.

In New York there is a telephone number you can phone to report pot holes, strange smells, a litter problem or anti-social behaviour as well as hundreds of other issues which arise in a city environment. The calls are logged and tracked and the information passed to the correct department to deal with - and it works.

Wikipedia has shown how powerful and useful harnessing the knowledge of the individual can be. Similar systems can be used to solve almost any problem. Peer progress is the way forward it seems and the author quotes many examples to show how this is starting to work in many different scenarios. Currently pharmaceutical companies spend billions on research and development - perhaps this could be better funded by means of `rewards' for individual effort and by awarding prizes. Open source might be the way to go for drug research with individuals being funded to produce a particular drug for a particular illness.

Without going into details which are comprehensively covered in the book - offering a prize for a particular solution on condition that the researcher makes their solution public property rather than applying for a patent to protect their invention can result in huge benefits for everyone concerned.

The book uses examples of companies which have prospered using employee participation and ownership so that everyone has a stake in the future of the company. Such companies are more flexible and innovative than top down management can ever be.

If you are interested in different ways of doing things and in harnessing the power of the individual then read this book. Many of the examples used are American but it is perfectly possible to see how the same ideas can be used elsewhere. The book is written in an easy accessible style and there are notes on each chapter and an index.
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on 3 November 2012
When you see the stock market valuations of Internet and social media companies that price audiences at billions of dollars even if there are no profits you may scratch your head in confusion.

Future Perfect by Steven Johnson is a book that captures the optimism behind those stock prices and despite its US focus provides some good pointers for small businesses everywhere.

At the heart of his argument to be optimistic is his belief that LeGrand stars will be replaced by Baran webs. No, I didn't know what he was on about either. But it is compelling to read on.

LeGrand stars are systems like big corporations and big government, named after the Frenchman who built France's railway network centred on Paris. It's super-efficient until the centre breaks down.

Paul Baran was an engineer who worked in the US defence industry and developed a communications web that the Soviets could not disable by knocking out the centre. It became the internet.

In his book. Johnson gives plenty of examples where ordinary people are able to collaborate in peer-to-peer networks to achieve great results.

For example, malnourished families in rural Vietnam were helped by outsiders who focussed on finding out how some families managed to feed their children and then on sharing their ideas in the villages. The consultants were "not there to provide outside expertise; they were there to amplify the expertise that already existed in the community."

This is a great example for independent retailers, who need to share best practice with each other. Some of the best symbol groups started out as peer-to-peer networks and many try to maintain strong information exchanges. But the importance of this activity is often underestimated by retailers who see a world dominated by big grocers, big suppliers and big government.

Those who campaign against the asymmetric control of information and power will find much encouragement in this book. They just need to find a different way to organise their arguments. Take inspiration from the defeat of SOPA by a collaboration of activists who spread the message to a billion people so that fast tracked legislation became toxic overnight.

"Over the next five years most industries are going to get rethought to be social, designed around people," says Mark Zuckerberg in a quote used by Johnson.

This is a book for people who want to make change happen. It's opening chapter is a must read for optimists. Things really are getting better all the time, says Johnson. If you like this worldview then Future Perfect will motivate you to do more.
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VINE VOICEon 15 March 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book was disappointing.

In essence he takes the peer to peer capability of the internet and transposes this to the social life. As such the entire book rests on an analogy which you may find interesting but is hardly a water tight argument.

He also invents a term 'peer progressive' which essentially seems to mean people like me - socially liberal, economically conservative but with the awareness that markets can fail and a dislike of hierarchical organisations. I'm not sure this is a useful term and that it actually identifies any real group of people. I suspect this group collapses into libertarianism quite quickly.

A lot of the time he basically seems to be saying that sharing information is good and many examples he quotes such as the 311 number you can ring for information in New York are not peer to peer - just old fashioned hierarchies using the new technology.

Well written, but a dodgy thesis not properly backed up.
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VINE VOICEon 8 October 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The question is where to start with saying what is wrong with this book. Perhaps the most irritating thing is the number of times the author mentions Hayek and how right he was in his capitalist views. Sorry but the proof of how wrong Hayek was has been the last five years of broken world economy and the preceding 20 years of economic debauchery. Anyway lets pretend the author has read more widely than Hayek for his economic views.

Next we have his argument that he is not pushing a Utopianism and that the idea of the distributed or Baran network idea that creates his peer progressives does not fit into the typical party spectrum. He argues he is neither Democrat nor Republican but the peer progressives are anti-big corporation and anti big union so the Tea Party are their closest political relations. You need to let that sink in for a minute ... Tea Party ... not politicised ... it does not hold water. He needs to read Pity the Billionaire to get the idea. The Tea Party are precisely the centralised big corporate controlled system he talks about being the only down side of Hayek. He seems to be so blinkered by hero worship he cannot see the link. There is one particularly non-biased paragraph when he talks about taxes from Tea Party members being used to pay for Nancy Pelosi's Chardonnay. All he needs to say is I love guns, the stars and stripes and 'murica and you get the idea of his real political roots. He is beyond blatant.

Then there are his cherry picked examples of how flat non-hierarchical business with diversity and effective information flow can out-perform traditional businesses. But this is just a rehash of the ideas presented much more effectively in Wikinomics and without the need to bring in Hayek and how great his view of capitalism was.

So that is the content. What about the presentation? Again this is a good example of market inefficiency and the failure of Hayek. Why is it printed in large font with double spacing so that there are 250 words to the page? At 240 pages including forward this is 60, 000 words. It would have been a 120 page book with a decent sized font and spacing. It is a glorified single issue pamphlet, with an unconvincing message, badly presented with insufficient support and cherry picked examples.

The one good thing is the large print and spacing means it didn't take too long to read and I didn't waste too much time on it.
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on 1 March 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
SJ is a journalist with several bestsellers to his credit.He has an upbeat opening in which he states that the world has in the majority of cases improved. He believes that future progress can be achieved by the use of peer networks.He distinguishes three types of networks: what he calls centralised networks which are tipified by a rail network in which all the lines run from a central station direct to their destination, decentralised in which they depart from a central point and then branch out and distributed networks in which everbody is connected to everybody else: peer networks, typified by the internet, in which there is a free exchange of information between peers e.g. Wikipedia. He sees these as the solution to a wide variety of tasks or problems such election campaigning, participatory budgeting, designing autopilot mechanisms, prize backed challanges, potholes in roads, locating mysterious smells and so on. The networks should be open and collabotive, like the trading towns of the early renaissance. This is an intrguing idea which has to be explored by reading the book and forming your own judgement. Try it!

Rating 4 out of 5.
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on 27 October 2013
Steven Johnson's recent run of books - The Invention of Air, The Ghost Map, Where Good Ideas Come From - have been so thoroughly well researched, considered and written that he's set the bar very high. Future Perfect is an interesting read, but doesn't meet those very high standards.

It makes the case for a new kind of political outlook based on the progress that technology has provided, not technological utopia but more grounded. He uses the example of air travel safety to show how life has improved immeasurably thanks to constant iterations of technology.

But after a strong opening each chapter becomes less sure of itself, setting up a proposition then using an example of a study to prove it - but sometimes, in my opinion, missing the mark.

This is still a good book and an interesting read, but I wouldn't recommend it as highly as any of his past three.
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VINE VOICEon 28 November 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I am all for making non-fiction topics accessible to the lay person. In trying to do this the good author turns the power of network thinking into something lightweight, with vague substance. There are examples littered here and there some of them with very tenuous connections. A line of optimism is seized upon and followed throughout. I would not have bought it for any of my circles.

May I offer my opinion that this reads better as a Kindle single to offer food for thought? There are some brilliant works for utilising the power of the network ie Crowdsourcing For Dummies (For Dummies (Lifestyles Paperback)) and if you wanted something even more philosophical and practical at the same time:Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movements in the Internet Age.
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on 21 November 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In 'Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age' Steven Johnson attempts to demonstrate that what lies behind a wide range of human achivements is the concept of networked thinking.

Steven is a busy guy: writing books, producing articles for a wide-range of publications, and founder of influential websites. A natural workaholic then, who always considers the glass half full of nectar. As a natural optimist he tends therefore to promote a very glowing, rosy-cheeked view of things and it's easy to get carried away with him on his bouyant wave. There are problems with some of his claims and assumpions therefore.

Overall it's a nice attempt at providing us with a new-world model, but don't read too deeply into it.
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