Friday, 5 July 2019

Book Review - Left To Our Own Devices, by Margaret E Morris

As mentioned previously, I've been writing a series of book reviews for the British Computer Society (BCS), including: -

Book Review - You'll See This Message When It Is Too Late - The Legal and Economic Aftermath of Cybersecurity Breaches

Rails, Angular, Postgres, and Bootstrap - A Book Review

Kubernetes Microservices with Docker - A Book Review

Book Review - Mastering Puppet Second Edition by Thomas Uphill

etc.

So here's the most  recent review - as before, for full disclosure, I must mention that BCS kindly provided me with a free hardcopy of the book, albeit a review version: -

Left To Our Own Devices, by Margaret E Morris

https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/left-our-own-devices

If nothing else, the title of this book intrigued me, in part because it reminded me of a Pet Shop Boys track from my youth. More seriously, the subtitle of the book: -

Outsmarting smart technology to reclaim our relationships, health and focus

resonated with a lot of recent media coverage about the impacts, both real and perceived, both positive and negative, of information technology in the modern era.

Whilst I don't claim to have strong opinions about the topic, or be particularly well-informed, apart from as a consumer, I have given thought to my family's use of mobile devices, Internet of Things gadgets, so-called smart home technology etc.

I'd especially considered limits on screen time, impact on sleep patterns, exposure to sources of news, including social media, and my tendency to live in a bubble, self-selecting news and opinions that mirror my own.

Therefore, this book came at precisely the right time, and opened my eyes to a number of use cases of technology, including smart lighting, health tracking ( including the so-called Quantified Self ), social media and messaging, technology as an art-form, self-identity, including gender and sexuality, and technology as a therapist.

Ms Morris illustrates each chapter, of which there eight, with a large number of individual user stories, taking inspiration and insight from real people, who allow her to share how they use technology, mainly for the positive, but with thought and insight.

Despite the title, and the subtitle, I found the book to be a very positive read; whilst there are definitely shortcomings to an over-use and over-reliance upon technology, the book shows how humans do manage to mostly outsmart their smart technology, and get from it what they need, whether or not that's what the original inventor intended.

I didn't come away with a list of Do's and Don'ts, but a better understanding of how, and why, people choose to use certain technologies, and, therefore, how I can evaluate my own use, and be more qualitative in my choice of technologies.

In conclusion, I strongly recommend this book, it's a relatively short read, coming in ~130 pages, and is a high enough level that one doesn't need to be a total geek to get the points raised, whether or not one is a total geek.

Out of 10, I'd give this book 10, mainly for completeness, brevity and for the all-important human touch.

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