Choosing what I believe is the Book of the Year is always a fun task —what new book each year most informs, illuminates, and influences me? 2008 the nod went to Tony Wagner’s Global Achievement Gap (Godin’s Tribes the close runner-up), 2009 Perkins’ Making Learning Whole, and 2010 was the year of Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From (with Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus close behind.) In 2011 John Seely Brown’s New Culture of Learning took my prize. (Christensen’s Innovators DNA and McGonigal’s Reality is Broken were also contenders.)
2012 is only half over, and it isn’t impossible that my current nominee will be toppled, but I don’t think it likely. Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart: How to Thrive Online is terrific: ambitious in scope but humble in tone; enthusiastic about opportunities but tempered by the recognition of the risks and downsides; sweeping in its broad-brushed depiction of our new era of empowerment and participation while specific in its suggestions of precise techniques and initiatives we can take to best leverage our staggeringly new connectivity.
It should be said that this valuable book is a bit more work than most of the other titles mentioned above. Johnson’s book was popular in airports, published by mainstream presses and written in a very general non-fiction manner, intended for wider audiences and reasonably easily read on a cross-country flight. Brown’s book is breezy and accessible, with large font and charming anecdotes, easily able to be read over a 90 minute flight. Rheingold, by contrast, is published by MIT press, with smaller font size and a greater seriousness— it isn’t an academic monograph, but will take more concentrated and extended attention than the others.
As I noted already in my previous post, Rheingold deserves great credit for his carefully nuanced balance of enthusiasm and sobriety about digital engagement and connected-ness, for which I am so appreciative. Digital media is (or are, if you prefer) a great gift to us and to our abilities to form community, to collaborate and create, and to gather information and to contribute information, to participate and contribute to the wider world in ways we never had before.
Used mindfully, how can digital media help us grow smarter? My years of study and experience have led me to conclude that humans are humans because we invent thinking and communicating tools that enable us to do bigger, more powerful things together. (more…)