The frozen future of nonfiction: My review of David Eagleman’s Why The Net Matters

One of my favorite events of the year is the annual ScienceOnline conference, which takes place every January in North Carolina: It’s filled with brilliant, funny, and wonderfully nice people. I’ve only attended for the past two years, but both times, I’ve left feeling invigorated and excited about my work.

This year, Carl Zimmer and some confederates (including MIT’s own Tom Levenson) were talking about the number of dedicated ebooks being published that dealt, in one way or another, with science. Within a few weeks, Download the Universe: The Science EBook Review was born.

Earlier today, I posted my first DtU review. It’s a write up of David Eagleman’s 2010 iPad app Why The Net Matters. I think Eagleman is a brilliant scientist, and Sum, his book of shortstories about the afterlife, is a wonderful piece of literature. Why The Net Matters, unfortunately, misses the mark:

The problems start with Eagleman’s premise, which is so vague and broad as to be practically meaningless. There are, he writes, just “a handful of reasons” that civilizations collapse: “dis­ease, poor in­for­ma­tion flow, nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion, re­source de­ple­tion and eco­nomic melt­down.” Lucky for us (and Eagleman does offer readers “[c]ongratulations on living in a fortuitous moment in history”), the technology that created the web “obviates many of the threats faced by our ancestors. In other words…[t]he advent of the internet represents a watershed moment in history that just might rescue our future.”

On the other hand, it just might not: In order to make his point, Eagleman either ignores or doesn’t bother to look for any evidence that might undercut it.

You can read the rest of the review here.

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