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Devices of the Soul
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Self-forgetfulness is the reigning temptation of the technological era. This is why we so readily give our assent to the absurd proposition that a computer can add two plus two, despite the obvious fact that it can do nothing of the sort - not if we have in mind anything remotely resembling what we do when we add numbers. In the computer's case, the mechanics of addition involve no motivation, no consciousness of the task, no mobilization of the will, no metabolic activity, no imagination. And its performance brings neither the satisfaction of accomplishment nor the strengthening of practical skills and cognitive capacities. In this insightful book, author Steve Talbott, software programmer and technical writer turned researcher and editor for The Nature Institute, challenges us to step back and take an objective look at the technology driving our lives. At a time when 65 percent of American consumers spend more time with their PCs than they do with their significant others, according to a recent study, Talbott illustrates that we're forgetting one important thing - our Selves, the human spirit from which technology stems. Whether we're surrendering intimate details to yet another database, eschewing our physical communities for online social networks, or calculating our net worth, we freely give our power over to technology until, he says, "we arrive at a computer's-eye view of the entire world of industry, commerce, and society at large an ever more closely woven web of programmed logic." Digital technology certainly makes us more efficient. But when efficiency is the only goal, we have no way to know whether we're going in the right or wrong direction. Businesses replace guiding vision with a spreadsheet's bottom line. Schoolteachers are replaced by the computer's dataflow. Indigenous peoples give up traditional skills for the dazzle and ease of new gadgets. Even the Pentagon's zeal to replace "boots on the ground" with technology has led to the mess in Iraq. And on it goes. The ultimate danger is that, in our willingness to adapt ourselves to technology, "we will descend to the level of the computational devices we have engineered - not merely imagining ever new and more sophisticated automatons, but reducing ourselves to automatons." To transform our situation, we need to see it in a new and unaccustomed light, and that's what Talbott provides by examining the deceiving virtues of technology - how we're killing education, socializing our machines, and mechanizing our society. Once you take this eye-opening journey, you will think more clearly about how you consume technology and how you allow it to consume you.
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Table of Contents

Introduction, Part 1. Technology, Nature, and the Human Prospect 1. 1.The Deceiving Virtues of Technology. 2. Hold a Blossom to the Light. 3. Toward an Ecological Conversation. Part 2. Extraordinary Lives 55. 4. Can Technology Make the Handicapped Whole? 5. The Many Voices of Destiny. 6.On Forgetting to Wear Boots. Part 3. From Information to Education .7. Why Is the Moon Getting Farther Away? 8. Failure to Connect. 9. Educational Provocations. 10. Three Notes: On Baby Walkers, Video Games, and Sex. 11.Who's Killing Higher Education? (Or Is It Suicide?) Part 4. On Socializing Our Machines. 12. Conversing with Ella.13. Flesh and Machines: The Mere Assertions of Rodney Brooks. 14. From HAL to Kismet.15. Invisible Tools or Emotionally Supportive Pals? Part 5. On Mechanizing Society.16. Evil. 17. The Threat of Technology That Works Well. 18. The Ideal of Ubiquitous Technology. 19. Privacy in an Age of Data. 20.A Taste for Number Magic. 21 The Internet: Reflections on Our Present Discontents

About the Author

Steve Talbott is a Senior Researcher at The Nature Institute in Ghent, New York. He produces the Institute's NetFuture newsletter, which was termed an "undiscovered national treasure" in a New York Times feature story on his work. His book, The Future Does Not Compute: Transcending the Machines in Our Midst, (O'Reilly, 1995) was named one of the "Outstanding Books of 1996" by the academic library journal, Choice.

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