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The Internet of Us: Knowing More and Understanding Less in the Age of Big Data Paperback – May 9, 2017
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“We now only rarely discover facts, Lynch observes; instead, we download them. Of course, we also upload them: with each click and keystroke, we hack off tiny bits of ourselves and glom them on to a data Leviathan…The root of the problem, as he sees it, is a well-known paradox: reason can’t defend itself without resort to reason.”
- Jill Lepore, The New Yorker
“In The Internet of Us, Michael P. Lynch begins by pointing out, rightly enough, that in the age of the Internet we seem simultaneously to know more and know less. This leads him, philosopher that he is, to ask some questions about what it means to say that we know something…Mr. Lynch’s basic argument is that if we understand better the conditions under which knowledge is produced and disseminated―conditions he explores clearly and cogently―then we will become more ‘responsible’ knowers.”
- Alan Jacobs, Wall Street Journal
“An excellent, much-needed contribution to the constant battle to sort truth from falsity.”
- Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“A bracing challenge to Internet enthusiasts.”
“To object to the internet would be like objecting to the atmosphere. But just as the atmosphere can be too warm, too toxic or can send violent storms our way, so, too, can the infosphere create many difficulties, not the least of which is the conflict between privacy and security. Luckily, there’s a new book out there by philosopher Michael P. Lynch. The Internet of Us shares my appreciation for what is less a new technology than a new way of knowing.”
- Robert M. Thorson, Hartford Courant
“In this age of ‘surf Google now,’ everyone is an expert by virtue of the instant ability to click for answers…Lynch’s treatise shows us that constantly forsaking the effort to dig and analyze in favor of quick information is a recipe for disaster that too often results in impulsive half-formed decisions…[T]his is a must read book.”
- Electric Review
“Combing the sharp insights of a leading philosopher with the lucid, accessible style of a natural historian, Lynch shows us how, as ‘knowledge’ has become a manufactured―and controlled―commodity, genuine understanding and creativity are becoming dangerously scarce. Essential reading for educators, parents, policymakers and, one hopes, those pulling the levers in the knowledge economy.”
- Paul Roberts, author of The Impulse Society: America in the Age of Instant Gratification
“Michael P. Lynch is a deep thinker and a wise soul. In his beautifully written The Internet of Us, he goes to the heart of a high-stakes existential drama in which nothing less than the fates of knowledge, education, democracy and what it means to be human are at stake.”
- Owen Flanagan, author of The Geography of Morals: Varieties of Moral Possibility
About the Author
Michael P. Lynch is the director of the Humanities Institute and a professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut. His previous books include True to Life, an Editor’s Choice by the New York Times Book Review. A recipient of the Medal for Research Excellence from the University of Connecticut’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Lynch has held grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and is a frequent contributor to the New York Times. He lives in Storrs, Connecticut.
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An interesting, simple experiment that Lynch conducted involved posing four questions to himself (the first: What is the capital of Bulgaria) and then attempting to answer them without going online. “My little exercise brought home for me, made it personal, in a way that I hadn’t before appreciated…. It feels historic, something akin to what it might be like to dress up in period costume….” Later in the book, he builds on the dangers of relying on the web for our answers: “Google-knowing has become so fast, easy and productive that it tends to swamp the value of other ways of knowing like understanding. And that leads to our subtly devaluing these other ways of knowing without our even noticing that we are doing so --- which in turn can mean we lost motivation to know in these ways, to think that the data just speaks for itself.”
Quoting a range of intellectuals from Bertrand Russell (“growth in knowledge without a corresponding growth in wisdom is dangerous”) to Plato, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, Lynch makes a good case for why we should approach our “google-knowing” warily. He believes that we confuse the information we receive, process and accept with objective truth. And because we tend to rely more on what comes from our definition of “trusted sources,” regardless of where they got their information, we are in danger of evolving into the self-referential --- in other words, “The Internet of Us.”
The problem with this cavalier approach to knowledge is that it threatens our democratic society. Lynch quotes Karl Popper’s 1946 warning that a world in which people don’t engage with others can over time become “a completely abstract or depersonalized society.” But instead of individuals being isolated, Lynch argues we are now grouped in “isolated tribes,” feeding our pre-existing beliefs and prejudices, but never getting beyond them. The obvious example of this is our current political system, with its parties hugging extremes and the populace blindly following favored politicians and pundits.
Lynch, who is a professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut, has written several books, among them IN PRAISE OF REASON: Why Rationality Matters for Democracy. It is clear that his fervent hope is that we will use the internet with a more skeptical approach, as a tool rather than the source of our knowledge. We are moving into a science fiction realm where new technologies like Google Glass represents our “neuromedia” future --- we don’t need to go onto the internet, because it’s our new reality, surrounding us.
Reviewed by Lorraine W. Shanley
In chapter 2, he talks about how he wrote down 4 tasks and worked to find answers to these 4 items without using the internet. He describes the challenges he faced in doing that as the equivalent of dressing up in Civil War costumes and participating in war reenactment LOL.
These were his questions:
1. What is the capital of Bulgaria? 2. Is a four-stroke outboard engine more efficient than a two-stroke? 3. What is the phone number of my U.S. representative? 4. What is the best-reviewed restaurant in Austin, Texas, this week?
I wonder how my children would fare at this task? This should be a social experiment (or a high school classroom project). I am thinking about making this a family scavenger hunt /challenge project...it's crazy how reliant we are on the Internet and how much MORE information we have access to than we used to (in my own lifetime.) and how much we trust that information...
This is an interesting read. I Recommend checking it out!
There is no question that the internet gives us greater knowledge of facts, figures and trends. But Michael Patrick Lynch worries that this does not always bring with it greater understanding. We all have opinions about different topics but how much do we actually know about the subject at hand? Do we spend countless hours online and neglect to hone our problem solving skills out in the real world? Do we strive to expand our horizons by seeking out other points of view or do we look for sites that affirm what we already believe? Finally and most importantly, what does it mean to be human in the digital age? Lynch examines all of these questions and a good deal more in his thought-provoking new book "The Internet of Us: Knowing More and Understanding Less in the Age of Big Data". You will discover what the 17th century philosopher John Locke has to say about what "knowledge" really consists of and you will learn the importance of the Socratic method in developing one's critical thinking skills. Meanwhile, Lynch also addresses the so-called "wisdom of crowds" and the myriad privacy issues raised by our brave new digital world. This is an interesting and well-written book on an extremely important topic. Recommended.