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Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut Hardcover – March 21, 1997

3.8 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

It is said that information wants to be free, but most days on the net, don't you feel that all it wants to do is be in your face every last minute? Did you ever feel yourself go "tilt" when a search engine retrieves 30,000 possible hits to your query? Or downloads 50 pieces of new e-mail? Perhaps some relief will come when you know the Laws of Data Smog that frame this book, among them: Silicon circuits evolve much more quickly than human genes; Equifax is watching; Beware of stories that dissolve all complexity; Too many experts spoil the clarity. David Shenk is certainly going to stir controversy with his conclusions, especially that government should get involved in reducing the information glut.

From Library Journal

In this engaging look at some of the side effects of the Information Age, Shenk convincingly argues that the reality of "data smog," or information overload, is surely leading to more societal ills than anyone else cares to admit. A fellow emeritus of the Freedom Forum Media Studies Center at Columbia University and commentator for public radio's "Marketplace," Shenk homes in on technology's darker side, exposing a mutating society that clearly favors speed above content, image above meaning, and instant reaction above careful deliberation. The result is a sobering expose of a phenomenon that Shenk believes is entrenched but not necessarily inevitable. His remedies, nestled in a nice set of insightful appendixes, nurture with the hope that the current trend need not necessarily end with the infernal interrupt trap halt warning that is foe to every techobuff alive. Sparkling, witty, and wry, this is recommended for all collections.?Geoff Rotunno, "Tri-Mix" Magazine, Goleta, Cal.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; 1st edition (March 21, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060187018
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060187019
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #346,123 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Glen Engel Cox on March 24, 2003
Format: 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.
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Format: 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.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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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Format: 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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