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44 of 49 people found the following review helpful
The first third of the book contains an interesting and highly readable popularisation of recent scientific texts on the role of networks in social organisation. Unfortunately the last two thirds of the book are filled with highly enthusiastic and uncritical examples of how these network structures might change various fields of society. Mainly these case studies fall short of valid analyses since they create false dichotomies between network structures, market structures and hierarchies. Instead of telling the more differentiated tale that network structures increasingly supplement traditional forms of social organisation the cases push the more sensationalist tale that network structures will replace traditional structures. For more balanced accounts of the phenomenon see for example: Bruce Bimber, Andrew Flanagin, Cynthia Stohl (Collective Action in Organizations: Interaction and Engagement in an Era of Technological Change (Communication, Society and Politics)), Andrew Chadwick ([...]) or Dave Karpf (The MoveOn Effect: The Unexpected Transformation of American Political Advocacy (Oxford Studies in Digital Politics)).
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2012
Future Perfect is an optimistic book about technology, society, and the future. That's remarkable in itself, since pessimistic (or at least cautionary) books tend to outnumber optimistic ones, but what's even more remarkable is the care and precision with which Johnson makes his case. The new communications technologies, he argues, are significant less for what they do than for what their capabilities enable us to do, if we choose to do it.

The first of the book's two sections lays out its central premise: that distributed "peer networks" allowing the free flow of information between diverse individuals are a powerful force for social progress. decentralized networks are a powerful tool for facilitating interaction between individuals, and thus for social progress. It concludes: "We have a theory of peer networks. We have the practice of building them. And we have results. We know that peer networks can work in the real world. The task now is to discover how far they can take us." The second, longer section - a series of thematic chapters on subjects like journalism, technology, and government - makes good on that promise. It presents case studies that show what peer networks have already accomplished, and contemplates what they might accomplish in the future.

Johnson's goal, in Future Perfect is not to write a primer on the theory of networks, an analysis of how distributed networks function, or a history of distributed networks (though he touches, expertly but wearing his expertise lightly, on all those subjects). Nor is his goal to predict the future: The potential applications he describes for peer networks are presented as possibilities, not certainties. His evident goal is, rather, to encourage readers raised in a world (largely) defined by centralized networks to think seriously about one (more) defined by peer networks. It is a manifesto, but an intellectual rather than a political one. In the spirit of Apple Computer (the subject of one of Johnson's case studies), it urges: "Think different."

Future Perfect is, in this sense, a spiritual sequel to Johnson's Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter. Like the earlier work, it takes a proposition that, at first glance, seems completely absurd -- the height of fuzzy headed wishful thinking -- and patiently shows that the "absurd" idea is a more useful tool than the received wisdom that "everybody knows." Future Perfect improves on Everything Bad, however, by its carefully delineated internal structure and its layering of case study on case study, thematic chapter on thematic chapter. Johnson's central idea is breathtakingly simple. His development of it, at length and in detail, is what gives the book its power.

Steven Johnson is both an insightful thinker and an exceptionally graceful writer. If you haven't encountered his work before, this is an excellent place to begin.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on October 5, 2012
I very much enjoyed reading Johnson's musings on the promise of peer networks and emergent forms of connection. I especially liked the perspective that this growing peer philosophy is neither Big Government nor Big Corporation, nor does it fit neatly into either of our dominate political platforms. It is indeed something altogether different. This aspect of the book was inspiring and refreshing.

However, despite his appeals that this "peer" revolution is not simply net-utopianism, the majority of Johnson's examples of peer-networked success were drawn from web related projects. If, however, we are learning from the Internet as a model as he says, maybe the dearth of non-web examples in Future Perfect suggests they are still emerging and evolving.

Additionally I really wished he had included a chapter on energy. There was almost no mention of climate change in this brief book. While tackling some "pressing" problems such as election finance reform, democracy, business, and education, Johnson overlooks one of the most centralized (non-distributed) platforms in our country: our energy grid. Energy seems like hanging fruit for this book, and its a disappointment to read 20 pages about KickStarter instead...
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 15, 2012
As an extreme technophile, I am certainly a tad biased in writing this review. However, Johnson's observations really gave a philosophical underpinning to the movement that the Internet has created. His argument is that the Internet makes information cheaper, which in turn allows "peers" to share data and information, rather than information coming down from a hierarchy. When innovation comes from the edges of the network, rather than the center, then the full power of the network is unleashed. Though detailed analysis and countless examples, he shows how the Internet is making this possible. However, I think he also comes across very balanced. He pulls examples not just from the last 20 years, but also sometimes from centuries ago to illustrate his point. The "peer progressive" mentality was not created by the Internet, but the Internet has enabled it to spread in a way never before possible. The writing and stories were thoroughly captivating as well.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 3, 2013
The first chapter of Steven Johnson's Future Perfect starts out with a provocative premise that we spend too much time talking about what is wrong and not enough time exploring the positive deviants as a source of innovation and ideas. Johnson structures the book around that idea in terms of talking about companies like Kickstarter, the Xprise etc.

Johnson quickly displaces all of this by an all out advocacy for what he calls "peer progressives." Peer progressives believe that a peer network is the most powerful tool to advance the cause of progress. The result is a book that is somewhat interesting but largely falls back into advocating for a type of peer-network panacea.

Overall and interesting book, but not one that I would recommend you run out and buy and read before all others - three stars, worth the time if you have the time.

Instead if you have not read Clay Shirkey's work, particularly Here Comes Everybody, then I would place that ahead of this book.

Strengths:

The positive deviants are interesting illustrations of how peer oriented networks can work.

The contrasts between Hayek, Libertarians and the Left provide a broader context and placement for the peer progressive movement.

The book expresses an idea, peer networks as a tool alongside governments and markets.

Challenges

The book's advocacy for peer networks is an example of the criticism Johnson lays out for people who saw the Internet as the answer to every problem.

While the book contains these positive examples, they are expressed in descriptive rather than prescriptive ways. You admire what others have done but you get little sense of what you should do now - get on Facebook? What are the social architectures that we need to have, how do we create them?

He does not really explore the deeper implications of peer networks. For example, in his discussion of Obama's use of peer networks for fund raising. Johnson does not point out that having a whole lot of people give a little also makes it easier to ignore the individual whose stake is relatively small.

There is a total lack of discussion about what is required to create, operate, manage and evolve a peer network. There is limited discussion of the technologies involved, the legal issues, or how peer networks interact with other established players in society.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 12, 2014
Future Perfect fails to fully connect its three themes: that society does not readily recognize incremental improvements; that the Internet and Baran networks enable more effective means of addressing market failures; and that emerging "peer progressives" may solve social problems that have bedeviled the other political parties/factions. A good thesis advisor would have asked for better documentation and connection of ideas.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 24, 2013
What is the best way to make progress? How can we, human beings, come up with the best ideas and solve scientific problems? What's the best way to run a country and how much say should the ordinary individual have in what laws are passed? This book raises some intriguing and important questions for all of us and provides some fascinating examples of how people are developing some very creative solutions to some of the problems of modern living.

Democracies elect people to enact laws on their behalf but can you imagine a situation where you as an individual could actually vote on which new laws you want? How would you feel about having much more of an individual say in how your local council's budget is spent in your neighbourhood? This is what has happened in one city in Brazil and it has resulted in a huge improvement in the standard of living for the poorest in a city.

In New York there is a telephone number you can phone to report pot holes, strange smells, a litter problem or anti-social behaviour as well as hundreds of other issues which arise in a city environment. The calls are logged and tracked and the information passed to the correct department to deal with - and it works.

Wikipedia has shown how powerful and useful harnessing the knowledge of the individual can be. Similar systems can be used to solve almost any problem. Peer progress is the way forward it seems and the author quotes many examples to show how this is starting to work in many different scenarios. Currently pharmaceutical companies spend billions on research and development - perhaps this could be better funded by means of `rewards' for individual effort and by awarding prizes. Open source might be the way to go for drug research with individuals being funded to produce a particular drug for a particular illness.

Without going into details which are comprehensively covered in the book - offering a prize for a particular solution on condition that the researcher makes their solution public property rather than applying for a patent to protect their invention can result in huge benefits for everyone concerned.

The book uses examples of companies which have prospered using employee participation and ownership so that everyone has a stake in the future of the company. Such companies are more flexible and innovative than top down management can ever be.

If you are interested in different ways of doing things and in harnessing the power of the individual then read this book. Many of the examples used are American but it is perfectly possible to see how the same ideas can be used elsewhere. The book is written in an easy accessible style and there are notes on each chapter and an index.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 16, 2014
Steven Johnson writes well. His books sit better with me than Malcolm Gladwell's books. Where Gladwell tries to push a point beyond where it can logically be pushed, Johnson takes a more nuanced view and lets the stories he tells speak more for themselves. I particularly liked his book Where Good Ideas Come From.

But Future Perfect seemed strained. The ideas did not flow as easily as in some other books. Maybe his move from Manhattan in downtown New York to laid-back Marin County, California near San Francisco made a difference. (I'm kidding about this.)

For example, Johnson says when talking about patents awarded to drug companies: "as a society we have decided that it's worth it to grant the artificial monopoly of a patent to ensure that the pipeline of medical innovation continues." But that's nonsense. How could we as a society ever decide something like that? By voting? By electing representatives who vote? No, I think companies can get patents on drugs because patents have historically been available, not from any decision as a society.

Not that I disagree with the idea behind that statement. Johnson goes on to question whether the monopoly a patent gives really makes sense. I don't think it does, for libertarians or the progressives Johnson talks about. (As a patent attorney, that may be heretical, but I strongly believe we would benefit by eliminating patents.)

All in all, the book is thought-provoking and covers ground that few people try to cultivate. But I can't agree with former president Bill Clinton's praise of this book. I think it's okay, but nothing more than that.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon September 18, 2012
In Future Perfect author Steven Johnson describes in detail an emerging political movement or philosophical worldview he names peer progressive. According to Johnson, peer progressives are in favor of decentralized, distributed networks with no single command center--similar to the internet but not necessarily technology based, which makes sense. Peer networks have surely been around as long as there have been humans. As a political philosophy peer progressivism straddles the line between Republicans and Democrats, sharing some ideas with each, though often the reasoning behind those common beliefs is different.

Future Perfect is similar in theme to many of Johnson's other books, but unlike them it has a sort of one note song feel. Its only topic is peer progressives. Johnson's enthusiasm is infectious, he has interesting things to say about what a world enhanced by peer progressive networks might look like, and his ideas are worth discussing and considering, but the book's 200+ pages felt long to me.

I read an advanced review copy of this book.
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Future Perfect by Steven Johnson is a book about a big idea. And Johnson is a good person to guide you through the big idea, he has dealt with big ideas and he is quite adapt at presenting the cross coupled and complex ideas adroitly.
In this case, the idea has to do with peer-to-peer networks. While the name itself sound like it has something to do computer and communication technology, it is a very interesting concept which can be implemented without the help of technology, although it surely could help. The gist of the idea is that in a peer-to-peer network there is no top or bottom, the network just is. There is no centralized command and control, the network exists to pass information efficiently amongst those who need information to thrive and survive. This concept, when extrapolated to other networks, for example: communities, journalism, technology, labor, governance, and corporate structures, can redefine and revolutionize the way these networks work or not work.
Very importantly, Johnson is careful in trying to divorce the reader's mind from the status quo views of the society. He emphasizes that most people distrust both big corporations and big government equally since both entities have demonstrated their incompetence in dealing with our problems. Having our system of thought be strictly dictated by this dichotomous structure is what is hindering our progress towards solving problems. John son then gives examples in various networks and presents ground breaking cases where the peer-to-peer networks in various forms are implemented.
The structure of the book gives the impression that these implementations are organic outgrowths of independent thought, and that the author is the one who vaguely recognized the structures, which is how the book is born. I am not sure if that is the case, I do not doubt the author and it seems plausible. The author actually does a very good job of telling the stories in great detail as well as explaining the intricate comings and goings of the networks. I truly enjoyed reading the book, it will take me a long time to revisit and re-think the premise and the evidence presented. This is not a book that will leave you once you are done reading it. The echoes of the big idea will resonate and haunt my thoughts for a while yet.
The one thing that was kind of an anomaly within the book is the attacks that the author launches against teachers unions, and he does this without any apparently reason nor any basis for introducing the subject into the discussion. It is an odd and jarring broadside which surfaces time and time again.
Overall I would say this is an excellent and thoughtful introduction to a big idea. The book was well conceived and well presented. It does require some original thought on the part of the reader to absorb the concept and be able to accept the premise of the idea.
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