Top positive review
Some hits and some misses - needed a better editor
on 18 July 2010
James Martin had made a name as a futurologist with his book "The Wired Society" which predicted the impact that the internet would have on creating the world we live in. Here he predicts that the world will undergo a major transition during the 21st Century. He describes how the world will go through a transformation by travelling through the mid-century canyon and that it is imperative that mankind makes it to the other side. There are perils for making it through the canyon and for this reason he has set-up the James Martin 21st Century School at the University of Oxford, to try and work out how we can make it through safely. This is a school for civilisation and survival that links many disciplines.
The canyon is a ncie metaphor and should provide a framework about which the book should be structured, so how we are now, problems of the canyon and how we might emerge, but this is not used well. We jump between problems and how we will emerge without saying how we get from one to the other. There is not enough focus on the canyon. This might be because Martin still does not have a clear view of the solutions - hence the School, but the canyon is getting very close and the book itself stressses the need for early action.
Where the book is strongest is identifying the wasted resources in our current world. This is not just wasted natural resources that we plunder without adding them to the balance sheet, but also people, our biggest wasted resource. On this I think he has identified the biggest failure of current society. He also identifies the madness of excessive consumerism with endless trivial consumer goods.
Where the books is weak is in the ideas about trans-humanism and our approaching Kurzweil's singularity - that we will be able to move in silico. If we do all the environmental problems go as we will never need food again! I also think he is too focussed on nuclear and biological weaponry which while a threat are nowhere near the levels of danger we faced 20 years ago. In the canyon bad things will happen, but we are unlikely to return to the total response view of the cold war. There is also too much emphasis on high civilisation - the higher arts. Florence in the time of da Vinci was not a great time to live. People were not enjoying high civilisation, they were fighting continuous wars to defend fragile democracies against tyrannical Princes. Great cultural movements do not mean good times for the citizens, which is what the future has to be about.