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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Overwhelmed by Information? This book might help
Are we drowning in a sea of information? Blinded by a smog of data? That's Shenk's premise, and I have to admit I'm in somewhat of an agreement with him. It's either agree with him, or admit that I'm getting old and can't keep up anymore. We are of an age, however--he relates how his first computer was a Macintosh in 1984. He talks about becoming involved in the early...
Published on March 24, 2003 by Glen Engel Cox

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Somewhat Outdated
I read this book as a requirement for a master's degree course. Although the information presented is very compelling, it is somewhat outdated.

Written in 1997, many of the topics that author David Shenk describes in the future tense have already occured. For example, he goes into great detain about the Y2K computer problem and the effect it could have on...
Published on September 30, 2005 by Jeffrey T. Munson


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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Overwhelmed by Information? This book might help, March 24, 2003
By 
This review is from: Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut Revised and Updated Edition (Paperback)
Are we drowning in a sea of information? Blinded by a smog of data? That's Shenk's premise, and I have to admit I'm in somewhat of an agreement with him. It's either agree with him, or admit that I'm getting old and can't keep up anymore. We are of an age, however--he relates how his first computer was a Macintosh in 1984. He talks about becoming involved in the early days of digital communication (back then, there was Compu$erve, the $ource, and local BBSes). He went on the reporting route, while I took the technology route. Now we both feel surrounded by too much stuff, data being the prime component. Shenk blames it on the new medium, whereas I think that maybe it is the nature of our general society.
Don't get me wrong. I love data. Databases are your friend, and they've certainly been mine, as I make my living off maintaining them, writing interfaces for them, and creating reports from them. The problem seems to go back to something much older than the Internet, but to the early days of computing. There is a term, not in much use today, called GIGO: Garbage In, Garbage Out. Too much data being stored in databases these days was dumped there, without editing, without sorting, without review. Just because modern tools allow you access to data in these storage areas better, faster, and cheaper, does not mean that data poorly stored has any more value. I am sure many of you have run into a case where the computer was supposed to help you with a task, but instead it just seems that you were able to process more data, not necessarily do the job quicker or easier. More data, as Shenk discusses, is not a solution. Better data would be, but no one is providing quality.
And this is where I say the problem is not the technology but the society. Americans have a hard time with quality. We give it lip service, but what we really want is quantity. The tagline for Godzilla, "Size matters," was perfect for us. Yes, we want more. We want a biggie fries and a biggie shake. We want to Super Size that Extra Value Meal. We purchase Range Rovers and the only range we rove is the median when there's a traffic jam. Let's go to CostCo and get the five-pound jar of spaghetti sauce, even though we only eat spaghetti at home once every two months. We'll take 52 channels of crap on the cable, although only four are worth watching. Bigger, we imply, is always better. Our hardware store here has a tagline that says they have "more of everything."
Shenk says, more is less. You are a limited creature; you can only handle a limited amount of input. Why not get some quality input for a change? I like the idea, and I have to admit that Jill and I were already working towards this goal before our move. Jill calls it "divesting ourselves of the material culture," but mainly it's just getting rid of stuff. Why did we have 700 CDs? We couldn't listen to them all, and hadn't listened to more than 5% in the last year. Why did we have 2000 books--did we intend to reference or reread all of them? I have been keeping bank and billing records for the last 15 years? Why? We cleaned out the closet, evaluating the things we really needed to meet our goals. And it isn't that much. Why did we have all that stuff. Because we were being good little members of the consumer society.
This simplification of the life style is one of Shenk's answers to Data Smog. The others include being your own filter (limit your inputs--cut off the TV, unsubscribe from those lists [well, except from mine]), being your own editor (take your time to understand what you read and hear, don't settle for sound bites), become a generalist (Robert Heinlein said, "Specialization is for insects."), and, lastly, take part in government rather than forsaking it. These antidotes are strong medicine towards regaining control of your life. Shenk probably didn't mean this as a self-help book, but if the tool pouch fits....
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beware the Smog!, April 19, 2000
By 
This review is from: Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut Revised and Updated Edition (Paperback)
Data Smog presents the good, the bad, and the ugly of what the Information Age is all about. For those of us on the fringes of the technology revolution, it is an eye-opener. Shenk shares many personal anecdotes to demonstrate his points. His clever use of language in "The Laws of Data Smog", chapter titles and description make it an enjoyable read. However, it's a bit hard to swallow his solutions, coming from an admitted information junkie. While he suggests ways we can reduce data smog, he doesn't quite succeed in convincing us that he has cleaned up his own act.
Shenk starts out with an appropriately brief account of the evolution of the information age, to explain how we got to the point of data smog. He clearly shows how information overload is creating more confusion, more stress, and decreased attention. His argument that technology threatens personal privacy is well-supported and currently a hot-button issue. His claim that the development of niches from sophisticated data analysis will splinter our culture is not quite as convincing. He has to be commended, though, for taking a stand against the idea that technology always means progress.
As an educator I had to take issue with the analogy he makes in "The Fourth Law of Data Smog: Putting a computer in every classroom is like putting an electric power plant in every home." I would argue that computers are a vital addition to the classroom, if used appropriately. If they are only used for skill and drill, then yea, they don't give much advantage over paper and pencil worksheets. But when computers are used for researching, communicating with others, and making projects, they are a nice tool that adds to the educational experience. In addition, computers increase teacher productivity immeasureably. As always, the focus needs to be on what is best for student learning... technology provides more tools that give more options for how we teach. Computers will be a major part of life in the future and we need to teach kids the skills they need to use them properly.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Somewhat Outdated, September 30, 2005
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This review is from: Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut Revised and Updated Edition (Paperback)
I read this book as a requirement for a master's degree course. Although the information presented is very compelling, it is somewhat outdated.

Written in 1997, many of the topics that author David Shenk describes in the future tense have already occured. For example, he goes into great detain about the Y2K computer problem and the effect it could have on people's computers. We all know that this turned out to be no problem at all. Further, he mentions the need for a national no-call list for telemarketers. Again, this has already happened since this book was published. I feel that it is time for a new edition to be published with more up-to-date information.

I do feel that the idea of "data smog" the overabundance of information that is overwhelming people today, is covered very well. I found the thirteen laws of data smog very interesting, and the antidotes to combat these laws were informative and helpful.

Overall, this book rates slightly above average, due to it being 8 years old, and many of the topics discussed have already taken place. If the author were to write an updated edition, then I would rate it higher. However, there are some good points that will make the reader think about the amout of information being placed for consumption and what we as consumers must do to filter out the smog so we can make good and informed choices.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Effects or information through technoloy, October 12, 2000
By 
Christopher Griffis (Martinez, CA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut Revised and Updated Edition (Paperback)
David Shenk's broad insight into technology, covering mostly the computer and internet, covers the many possible causes of stress, addiction, confusion, misunderstanding, etc.... and most importantly our thought process. If you have ever been afflicted or affected by these or any other of technologies problems. David Shenk gives his own practical solutions to such problems in part 4 of his book Data Smog. "All technologies introducted into our human ecosystem come with a raft of expected and unexpected consequences." If you decide to read the first 3 parts of Shenk's book, he will explain the direct effect technology has on the whole of society. He certainly will unveil the many indirect effects of technology. "Above all else, it is imperative that in the coming years we strive to keep the quality of our thinking as great as the quality of our information."
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The browser UPGRADE that shatters the paradigm!, May 9, 1997
By A Customer
David Shenk throws needed light on the problems of the confusion of information as knowledge. We need to remember that knowledge depends on making important distinctions within value-rich contexts. Such distinction-making illuminates important and meaningful existential relations between persons and things. In this light, the browser industry's attempt to substitute the certainty of knowledge for the push of opinions demands re-evaluation.

The dangers of information glut now require our discipline, moderation, and caution when we integrate the information of the mass media and the internet into ourselves. Perhaps, enrichment of this kind (if it is to be enrichment and not our demise!) also requires an enlightened and correct conscience to resist unwholesome and self-destructive influences.

Thoughtful and important, keep a copy of "Data Smog" close to your computer when you need a strong dose of common sense. Shenk's book is the one necessary UPGRADE that the browser giants have all failed to incorporate into their new and unimproved packages. Perhaps, Netscape and Microsoft will forget about PUSH technology. Instead, they can ship Shenk's "Data Smog" with the upcoming browser releases.

This needed upgrade would help real people better evaluate the integrity of information and its value within the context of cultural promotion and formation. While society has a right to information based on truth, freedom, justice, and solidarity, Shenk re-affirms the wisdom that demands the proper exercise of such a right. The content of information, for example, must be true and complete in the context of justice and charity.

Shenk's "Information Smog" also explores other ethical considerations. Does the communication of information, for example, require a certain integrity? Minimally, information must be communicated with honesty and conditioned by an ethics that does not permit the offending and corruption of our intelligence and dignity. In this context, civil authorities are responsible for defending and safeguarding public morality and social progress from the misuse of information. Indeed, such abuses are scandalous to the common good.

Would shipping "Data Smog" with the new browsers represent the kind of paradigm-shattering breakthrough that is all we ever really wanted in a new browser? YES! But why the browser war commentators and designers didn't figure this out a lot sooner may come as a surprise to us all. It is more evidence that the techno-queens are not so smart; they actually are a little bit slower than the rest of us. Isn't it ironic!

Stan Faryna

Co-editor

BLACK AND RIGHT

The Bold New Voice of Black Conservatives in America (Praeger Publishers, 1997)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars First Heartbeat of the CyberEcology, August 30, 2000
By 
This review is from: Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut Revised and Updated Edition (Paperback)
"Data Smog" presents the good, the bad, and the ugly of what the Information Age is all about. David Shenk does a good job describing the problem and effects of information overload. He clearly shows how information overload is creating more confusion, more stress, and decreased attention.
A large portion of the "Data Smog" focuses on the effects of technology on politics. Some of the ideas and suggestions for keeping information at bay seem vague or inappropriate, especially when it comes to his suggestions for the role of government.
But I think, "Data Smog" is more important book than most people will realize. David Shenk makes a very good case on how we should tighten up discipline of information intake or else have our lives consumed by media. Although his solutions, which are ways to reduce data overload, sounds too simplistic.
Nevertheless, please keep a copy of "Data Smog" close to your computer when you need a dose of common sense and to give some peace to your overloaded brain.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The good and the bad of information, November 7, 2001
This review is from: Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut Revised and Updated Edition (Paperback)
David Shenk's examination on the information flow is somewhat sobering. Shenk has a good grasp on the major problems resulting from too much information. From moral decay to highlighted social distinctions, Shenks dissect all negative aspect of the information age. Weather directly or indirectly, at the end of the day, everybody is affected. His book is divided into four parts where the first three emphasize the problems and consequences of excess information. The last part gives antidotes to be able to deal with the the consequences. In general, the book is very accurate and makes you think a lot. However, I only gave three stars to the book's rating because I felt that the book was a little depressive. I understand that sometimes the truth is not always pink but Shenk wrote in such a way as to depress the readers. Facts are one thing but personel opinions should at least sound a little more positive. In all, I'm glad I read the book but would not recommend this book to any of my friends.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars What Might Have Been, February 1, 2001
By 
This review is from: Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut Revised and Updated Edition (Paperback)
I am disappointed that I end up rating David Shenk's book so low because there are some very interesting ideas at work here. His rejection of technology as a panacea for all of humanity's problems is very accurate. Also his distinction between mere information and real knowledge is something that all people should wrestle with. And his analysis that public figures and interest groups rely increasingly on overheated rhetoric rings true to anyone who watched Jesse Jackson compare every current event to Selma or who reads the latest enviro-disaster headline.
But despite those positives there are several major flaws which mar this book. First and most important is that Mr. Shenk, as many modern social critics of both the left and right often do, falls prey to nostalgia. He seems to yearn for the golden age of American discourse, but when precisely was that? He worries that consensus runs "thinner and thinner every year." Would he be refering to the previous political consensus that brought us the Civil War, William Jennings Bryan's Cross of Gold, the imposition and repeal of Prohibition, the McCarthy hearings or the long struggle for civil rights? In fact, I would argue that our differences are much smaller than they used to be (even if we argue about them more loudly). As an example, in the recently concluded election, Bush and Gore argued over whose prescription drug plan was better, not whether there should be one at all.
Mr. Shenk also decries the growing specialization of both publications and marketing. But were we really better served when a larger percentage of the nation read Life magazine? And is marketing that allows businesses to provide advertising that is more relevant to each person really bad? I personally enjoy seeing the suggestions that this site provides of books I might be interested in. But I am not powerless to resist that advertising as Mr. Shenk seems to fear.
The other major sin, at least in my opinion, is Mr. Shenk's knee-jerk liberalism. This became increasingly obvious whether in his disparaging treatment of President Reagan or Republicans in general or the idea that corporations are somehow, if not quite evil, at least morally corrupting. And his depiction of journalists as paragons of objectivity and reason is laughable to anyone who watches the liberal bias of papers such as the New York Times or the conservative bias of the Washington Times.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Refreshing Perspective on Our Communications Revolution, December 23, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut Revised and Updated Edition (Paperback)
Intelligent people know you will forget 99% of what you read and you can only read a few hundred words a minute. The human being is the communications bottle neck and technology can never change that. Shenk makes a very good case on how we should decipline our information intake or else have our lives consumed by media.
Jeffery Lewis
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fiber for your brain, April 5, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut Revised and Updated Edition (Paperback)
Feeling a bit blitzed lately? Like you're mentally constipated? Like you're just a tube through which someone or something rams the maximum amount of stuff every day? Yeah, I get that, too. In my job, which mainly boils down to reading and processing paper and email 40 hours weekly (weakly?), "data smog" is a constant companion. Ladies and Gentlemen, our Information Age is becoming Information Rage. I know I feel it. And now, at last, someone has been able to articulate-- elegantly--what many of us experience in the early 21st Century. David Shenk is that person, and DATA SMOG is his statement.
The second law of thermodynamics, the Entropy law, tells us that the more energy we push through a system, the less that is absorbed and the more that is disapated as waste. This is precisely the problem with our information-saturated environment, and Shenk charts this disorder across the societal landscape--vulgarity, ADD, diminished decision-making, a general feeling of distraction and anxiety are all part of this mix. Quite simply, Shenk puts to words what many of us subconsciously feel. It is comforting to read.
Certain criticisms of this book hold that Shenk is heavy on analysis but light on solutions. I would argue that yes, the solutions appear simple, but yes, also, that sometimes the best solutions ARE simple. The symptoms and processes of information glut may be complex, but unplugging the TV is a wonderfully down-to-earth way to address it. Shenk offers more than this, of course. Far more.
DATA SMOG is an important book, more important than most people will realize. Cyberspace is the thing these days, but human biology will never catch up. And the more we try to catch up, the more we should expect to forget things like what we ate this morning, or what it's like to be at peace without some switch always clicking in our heads. Simple things. We all need information to live, but just as important are the gaps between that information and our ability to make sense of it. That's the difference between information and knowledge. Buy this book. It's one bit of information that will help you make sense of all the rest.
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