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An entertaining history of techno-pessimism and the endless battles between techno-optimists and skeptics about the impact of new technologies on life, learning, culture, and economies. Baron rightly points out how those who have a "common tendency to romanticize the good old ways" of doing things often fail to appreciate how new technology can benefit society -- including themselves. He walks us through a litany of historical examples--the printing press, the telegraph, telephones, typewriters, pocket calculators, personal computers, word processors, webpages, blogs, social-networking sites, and more--and identifies the usual pattern: we greet each new technology with deep distrust and dire warnings, but in time we adapt to the new realities. Indeed, as a species, we have an unparalleled ability to learn new ways of doing things. We don't always like technological change, and often we deeply resent or fear it, but in the end, we learn to live with it and eventually to embrace it.
He shows how this cycle is once again playing out today as a new generation of skeptics deride the Internet and digital technologies. These overly pessimistic critics (think: Neil Postman, Andrew Keen, Lee Siegel, Mark Helprin) turn a blind eye to both the wonders of the digital age and humanity's ability to adapt. As Baron persuasively argues, "English survives, conversation thrives online as well as off, and on balance, digital communications seems to be enhancing human interaction, not detracting from it." In fact, we live in a world of unprecedented media abundance that previous generations would have found unimaginable.
Baron's retelling of the history of techno-skepticism leaves one with the nagging feeling that these debates will never cease. Each generation will witness a technological watershed that brings out a fresh crop of both pollyannas and pessimists. But he shows why would should have hope that the optimists typically have it right and that society benefits from technological change. [see my complete review of his book on the Technology Liberation Front blog: http://techliberation.com/2009/10/23/review-a-better-pencil-by-dennis-baron ]