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Customer Review

on December 9, 2005
This book has lots of interesting little tidbits, but it falls way short of its promise. In a nutshell, Thackara rushes WAY too quickly to grind a variety of axes, and as a result skips over the basic drivers of the world's situations.

At best he's clever, but at worst he's completely clueless about some of the subjects he uses as "proof" of his claims. For example, consider the passage (p70) "proving" that the world does not need additional fiber optic bandwidth:

"Only a tiny fraction of these costly fibers are currently 'lit'--as little as 3 percent by some estimates."

This kind of thing is famous within the fiber optic industry as a flag flown by the clueless. Even though many fibers are unlit, this does nothing to alleviate the very real problems of fiber exhaust on the main long-haul routes. Moreover, where high wavelength-count Wavelength Division Multiplexing is available, it is much more economic to run traffic over a single pair of fibers in the form of additional wavelengths (rather than mutliple separate fibers), to fully leverage optical amplification.

After you've seen enough ramrods like this in the book, you tend to doubt some of his more basic points.

Come to think of it, what is that point? That growth is "bad" and should stop? OK, agreed. But unless the real impact and long-term costs are somehow "felt" by designers, merely attempting to shame the world into designing better and getting his message "into our heads" is going to be like pissing in the wind.

This is why Bruce Sterling's "Shaping Things" is a far better book. Sterling "gets" that most designers are not in a position to arbitrarily add costs to their own projects, no matter how important the consequences to world may be. Rather, he points to the notion of a "Spime" which may ultimately be a key towards "closing the loop" on the complete lifecycle of a product or design.

But, there are a number of epigrammatic phrases and interesting points that are made. So if you're interested in this book wait for the trade paperback to come out.
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