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Publisher's Summary

At once a celebration of technology and a warning about its misuse, The Glass Cage will change the way you think about the tools you use every day.

In The Glass Cage, bestselling author Nicholas Carr digs behind the headlines about factory robots and self-driving cars, wearable computers and digitized medicine, as he explores the hidden costs of granting software dominion over our work and our leisure. Even as they bring ease to our lives, these programs are stealing something essential from us.

Drawing on psychological and neurological studies that underscore how tightly people’s happiness and satisfaction are tied to performing hard work in the real world, Carr reveals something we already suspect: shifting our attention to computer screens can leave us disengaged and discontented.

From nineteenth-century textile mills to the cockpits of modern jets, from the frozen hunting grounds of Inuit tribes to the sterile landscapes of GPS maps, The Glass Cage explores the impact of automation from a deeply human perspective, examining the personal as well as the economic consequences of our growing dependence on computers.

With a characteristic blend of history and philosophy, poetry and science, Carr takes us on a journey from the work and early theory of Adam Smith and Alfred North Whitehead to the latest research into human attention, memory, and happiness, culminating in a moving meditation on how we can use technology to expand the human experience.

©2014 Nicholas Carr (P)2014 Brilliance Audio, all rights reserved.

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A MODERN LUDDITE

"The Glass Cage", written by Harvard alumnus Nicholas Carr, ironically places him in the shoes of an uneducated English textile artisan of the 19th century, known as a Luddite. Luddites protested against the industrial revolution because machines were replacing jobs formerly done by laborers. Just as the Luddites fomented arguments against mechanization, Carr argues automation creates unemployment, diminishes craftsmanship, and reduces human volition.

Unquestionably, the advent of automation is traumatic but elimination of repetitive industrial labor by automation is as much a benefit to civilization as the industrial revolution was to low wage workers spinning textile frames. There is no question that employment was lost in the industrial revolution; just as it is in the automation age, but jobs have been and will continue to be created as the world adjusts to this new stage of productivity. Carr carries the Luddite argument a step further by inferring a mind’s full potential may only be achieved through a conjunction of mental and physical labor. Carr posits the loss of physical ability “to make and do things” diminishes civilization by making humans too dependent on automation.

This period of the world’s adjustment is horrendously disruptive. It is personal to every parent or person that cannot feed, clothe, and house their family or them self because they have no job. Decrying the advance of automation is not the answer. Making the right political decisions about how to help people make the transition is what will advance civilization.

36 of 48 people found this review helpful

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  • Ted
  • PARK CITY, UT, United States
  • 06-16-15

Bereft of Comparisons to Non-Automated Systems

Any additional comments?

I work for a home automation company (Control4), so I eagerly wanted a well-grounded view of the problems of automation. Instead, Carr's book wound up being pretty thin stew.

Carr's major flaw is a lack of critical thinking. Throughout he offers numerous--sometimes frightening--anecdotes highlighting the hazards of automation, but never does he compare with non-automated systems. For example, he cites a few cases of airline incidents caused by pilots who have allegedly lost their muscle memory for flying aircraft because automation has reduced their active participation in controlling planes. But Carr then utterly fails to compare whether we had fewer pilot error instances when aircraft were less automated. With tens of thousands of aircraft aloft each day, is flying more dangerous now than they were when systems were less automated, and therefore more prone to human error? Carr provides nothing in this seemingly obvious regard. Without demonstrating that automation has made flight more dangerous based on real comparisons, Carr just comes off as Henny Penny.

Similarly, Carr tries at one point to proclaim that automation is making jobs scarce. But Carr makes this assertion without consulting modern day economists. It could be true, but I don't see a compelling case laid out. Carr only offers more doom-and-gloom postulation. Custom Electronics installation in homes--my field--is now a booming industry, and companies that deal in it can't hire skilled technicians fast enough. As another reviewer (Chet Yarbrough) points out, people may need help adapting to the change, but that does not mean we can stop the advance of automation.

I came to this book looking for a solid analysis of the negative impacts of automation. What I got was a lot of unsubstantiated hypotheses and fearful anecdotes. The only thing certain that listening to this book got me was this: Carr doesn't like automation.

6 of 10 people found this review helpful

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One sided analysis of automation

The Glass Cage looks at automation through the viewpoint of what we as humans give up as AI makes our jobs easier. Pilots aren't as expert at flying as pilots used to be without autopilot, people don't get to experience the joy of being proficient at shifting a manual transmission car in the age of automatics, etc.

This is all true, but this book misses several important points.

First, while being an expert at a role is admirable and probably satisfying, that's not a reason not to change how things were done. 150 years ago, people used to be experts at writing long hand. That skill is now a lost art. I'm sure we've all lost something by not knowing how to write cursive, but I'll take the ease of typing and reading typed words over cursive any day. (this from a person that regularly must read 19th century handwritten legal deeds.)

Second, the book focuses exclusively on what the automation does to the experts, and not the benefits it can provide to the rest of us. Sure, autonomous cars may occasionally cause an accident due to software error or drivers that have become too complacent, but it will prevent many, many more accidents caused by human error from inattention, exhaustion, etc. Should we stop autonomous cars because there will be 100 driver fatalities a year attributable to them, and people will no longer get the satisfaction of driving themselves? No, because we have tens of thousands of driver deaths a year caused by humans and many people don't enjoy driving and will never be expert at it anyway.

In the end, the argument the Glass Cage seems to be making is that working at these tasks is the only way we can attain happiness. I would suggest that there are more satisfying ways to spend one's life than driving a truck, flying an airliner, or many of the other tasks people do for money that will some day be done by computers.

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Superb, Engaging, and Frightening

Would you consider the audio edition of The Glass Cage to be better than the print version?

They are both good

What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

His methodical and even voice

Have you listened to any of Jeff Cummings’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

Yes. Jeff is one of the best narrators around.

If you could give The Glass Cage a new subtitle, what would it be?

The Beginning of the End

Any additional comments?

As a physician deeply concerned about the interposition of technology between my profession and the patients we care for, I found Nicholas Carr's books - The Shallows and The Glass Cage - as part of my research for a non-fiction book I'm writing for McFarland Publishing. Nicholas's writing has validated my fears, provided well-researched and annotated support for his arguments, and led me down several new paths of thought I had not considered. This book is superbly written, informatively, engaging, and, if you buy the audio version, narrated. If you've noticed that your doctor spends more time data entry than they do listening to you, these two books will hint as to why. I would recommend both books to anyone in the medical field and to anyone who feels that their creative edge, their focus, and intelligence may have been waning. It might not be you - Our computer's speedy processor may be making us all a bit slower.

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Great piece

Solid research, fantastic structure. Looks at the issues in a very balanced and even way.

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  • Ex
  • 11-09-17

start with The Shallows instead

not as engrossing or engaging as The Shallows was, which spent more time addressing neuroscience and human behavior. this is more focused on the tech perspective first and really only breezes over the actual science used to study AI.

nonetheless, Carr is great at making the case for critical thinking about humans and their relationship to technology.

so if you like The Shallows, this will be a great extension of that book.

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After hearing this, i bought the book

its brilliant, simply the most central book in this century for people who dare being critical to digitalization

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full of hopelessness , negative, not useful

other books are better if you are seaching for the depth and understanding that will promote solutions for the individual and the country.

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Timely

I'm sure after the revelations of NSA monitoring this book would have taken a different turn, but it pursued the question of where does technology and the best human existence come together. this book was challenging but not intentionally negative. I'm going to happily share it with others.

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Love it.

It gave me a total different out look on today world and some of the problem we are facing as people. and a look into what are future may hold.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful