Edge in the News: 2011

Focus.be [1.6.11]

Does the Internet affect our brains? 170 scientists and artists are trying to answer that question.

Since 1998, John Brockman of The Edge Foundation, an association of scientists and intellectuals, asks his members every year a question which they must answer with a short essay. Examples from recent years include "What do you think is true, but you can not prove?" and "What did you change your mind about? The question last year is also the title of this book. It is of course a very topical issue although the Internet has no really been around long enough to have serious statements about the impact on our brains or our way of thinking, yet in recent years there have been dozens of works published describing the investigated effects. 

Here you get 170 scientists and artists, including big names such as Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Daniel C. Dennet, Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Brian Eno, each of whom has a few pages to explain the advent of the Internet and what it has meant to them.

With so many people are discussed, this is a very diverse book. Optimists like Kevin Kelly, founder of Wired magazine, may hold a hymn to the possibilities of the Internet, while several pages later another describes the worldwide web as "the biggest distraction from serious thinking since television was invented." Some authors point to the disastrous consequences that the Internet already has on our brains, while an evolutionary biologistsays that the Internet so far has changed our very little because the information we find there is still viewed through our lenses as hunter-gatherers. That we can not handle this, for example, leads to a greater sense of insecurity.

The Independent [1.6.11]

Publishers, I was told by an august member of that tribe soon after I first wrote about them, are exactly like farmers. Whatever the weather, whatever the harvest, they just love to moan. Much in the world of books has changed since that moment, but not the propensity to grumble. During 2010, the "we're all doomed" tendency fed us on a bumper crop of of gloomy prognostications. Will almost-free digital distribution drain cash and credit out of the entire book-supply system? Do electronic books as a whole threaten to bankrupt publishers and pauperise authors? Has the spread of new media destroyed an appetite for reading any text tougher than a tweet among the born-digital generation?

Can anybody stop Google (with Amazon and Apple not far behind) seizing control of humanity's written heritage and using it to promote their partisan corporate agendas? Will independent high-street booksellers, well-stocked local libraries and reasonable advances for authors who don't appear on TV fade into the mists of bookish history, along with quill pens and lazy lunches? And can we ever hope to resist the takeover of publishing by celebrity clout when our Christmas chart-topper – Jamie Oliver's Jamie's 30-Minute Meals - comes from an author who cheerily admits that "I've never read a book in my life, ever, apart from my own". Respect to the recipes, though.

So book lovers need to embark on a chapter of hope. Every new year, John Brockman of the online intellectual powerhouse Edge (www.edge.org) asks its virtual community of scientists and social thinkers one question. In 2007, it was this: "What are you optimistic about?" To strike a less than despondent chord this January, I put the same question to a few people in the British book world who are best placed to know. Read their answers on these page

Stefano Boeri, admin [1.3.11]

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