Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Book Review: 'The Digital Rabbit Hole' by Larry Kilham

New Mexico author Larry Kilham received a B.S. in engineering from the University of Colorado, an M.S. in management from MIT, worked large international companies and founded three high-tech companies and gained three patents to his credit involving innovative use of computers and researching artificial intelligence. He has published eight books about creativity and invention, artificial intelligence and digital media, travel overseas, and three novels with an AI theme. He is also a corporate consultant, a member of the American Chemical Society, and is keenly interested in automation, ecology, global resources and the science of complexity.

Larry’s impressive credentials make him not only an important voice in ruminating about the pluses and minuses of the digital era in which we find ourselves, but he accompanies his observations with a sensitive wit, making him a pleasure to read as well as a guru on the state of smartphones and other digital advances in modern day life. This trait is evident in his Introduction – ‘Let us imagine today’s version of the classic story, Alice in Wonderland. The story might open like this: Alice began to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the lawn, and of having nothing to do. Once or twice she peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “when people can see everything in color and sound on their smartphone?” She smiled mischievously, grasped her glowing smartphone and began listening to it through her tiny earbuds. Suddenly a white rabbit appeared in a great state of agitation, saying, “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!” He took a smartphone out of his vest, glanced at it attentively, and said, “Be quick, follow me, or we will miss the tea.” Alice jumped up, and looking for a little adventure, ran after him. The rabbit tapped his smartphone screen, and Alice’s smartphone screen came to life with a live video of some people and creatures sitting around a picnic table having tea. “Hurry up,” he said, as he disappeared down a hole under a hedge. Alice followed and found herself falling weightlessly, with the walls of the tunnel fading out of view. “Is there a bottom?” she wondered. She was so absorbed by it all that she forgot to be afraid. In this new world, Cyberland, Alice could find no places to eat, no malls, only some strangers sitting around a picnic table having tea. Then, boom! Alice hit the ground. She struggled to her wobbly feet and scraped her head on the roof of a space with no walls in any direction. A button appeared on her smartphone labeled “click here.” Alice clicked without thinking about what could happen next and found herself shrinking. The rabbit appeared again. “You are as tall as me!” Alice cried. “So?” he said. “Hurry, we’re late!” This Alice in Cyberland scenario is no longer fantasy. More and more people— almost all of the younger generations— are falling down digital rabbit holes. We all make forays into digital places where we find our friends, gather information, make discoveries, or set out on adventures. For centuries, social groups, books, libraries, songs, movies, and other media fulfilled those functions, but they were optional behavior. Now we have the Internet, which is not optional. It is a digital rabbit hole we fall into and cannot escape. The doors and windows to this infinite Cyberland are the smartphone.’

From this fantasy that is actually very close to reality Larry raises a ringer of warning – ‘There are two basic reasons why this trend is happening and will become pervasive and controlling: Technology – The perpetual digital connection to everything, which can provide us an easy apparent answer, rather than make us devise one of our own. Human nature – We gravitate towards convenience, good enough, emotional feedback, least action and distractions. We are creating two knowledge worlds.’

Or as the synopsis for the content of this excellent book states, ‘ Will digital media sweep us into a new era of prosperity? What new advances in entertainment, culture, education, and knowledge can we expect? Will we get stuck in Cyberland only to be saved by digital detox? The Digital Rabbit Hole reveals that we are becoming captive in the digital universe. The portals are smartphones and the world is the Internet. We immerse ourselves in social media; we learn through packaged feel-good information; and we will leave the hard work to robots and AI. The book details digital media and discusses smartphone addiction problems. It proposes solutions to stimulate creativity and education and to recapture our humanity.’

So much to learn here: Larry divides his book into The World of the Knowosphere, What to learn and how to think in the age of Google, and Escape form the Rabbit Hole – each section is erudite, at times horrifyingly real and at other times comically relatable. A book everyone should read! Grady Harp, June 17

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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