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by James Bridle

New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future

It may be my first book for 2019 but I'm going to put it out there, this is my must read book for 2109 already. Considering it was published in 2018 to broad acclaim, it may be a safe call.

tl;dr; Read this book. It's well resourced, thoroughly referenced, well thought out with the compiled information and lines drawn potentially redrawing the way you see our industry and the world. If you're already across the issues, the hard facts will still cause you to draw breath.

I read this book in bursts over 4 weeks. Each chapter packing it's own informative punch. The narrative first grabbed my attention on page 4 where the weakness of learning to code alone was fleshed out.

"Computational thinking is predominant in the world today, driving the worst trends in our societies and interactions, and must be opposed by real systemic literacy." page 4

Where it is argued that systemic literacy is much more important than learning to code - with a humorous but fitting plumbing analogy in the mix.

One of the recurring threads in the book is the titular "Dark New Age", with points being drawn back to the various actions present in modern society that are actively reducing our knowledge.

"And so we find ourselves today connected to vast repositories of knowledge, and yet we have not learned to think. In fact, the opposite is true: that which was intended to enlighten the world in practice darkens it. The abundance of information and the plurality of world-views now accessible to us through the Internet are not producing a coherent consensus reality, but one riven by fundamentalist insistence on simplistic narratives, conspiracy theories, and post-factual politics." page 10

Also covered are more well known instances of corporate and government censorship, the traps of the modern convenience technologies.

"When an ebook is purchased from an online service, it remains the property of the seller, it's loan subject to revocation at any time - as happened when Amazon remotely deleted thousands of copies of 1984 and Animal Farm from customers' Kindles in 2009. Streaming music and video services filter the media available by legal jurisdiction and algorithmically determine 'personal' preferences. Academic journals determine access to knowledge by institutional affiliation and financial contribution as physical, open-access libraries close down." page 39

It was the "Climate" chapter that packed the biggest punch for me, as an issue I considered myself rather well across over the last 30 years, it turns out there was a significant factor I'd missed. A hint that surprise was coming came in an interesting diversion into clear air turbulence.

"An advisory circular on preventing turbulence-related injuries, published by the US Federal Aviation Administration in 2006, states that the frequency of turbulence accidents has increased steadily for more than a decade, from 0.3 accidents per million flights in 1989 to 1.7 in 2003." page 68

The reason for this increase was laid at the feet of increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere by Paul Williams of the National Centre for Atmospheric Science and the implications were expounded upon in his paper Nature Climate Change (2013) thusly:

" winter, most clear air turbulence measures show a 10-40 per cent increase in the median strength...40-70 per cent increase in the frequency of occurrence of moderate or greater turbulence." page 69

The real punch in the guts came on page 73, where I first came across the concept of "Peak Knowledge" and how the climate change was playing it's defining role in that decline, where President of the American Meteorological Society William B Gail wonders if:

"we have already passed through 'peak knowledge", just as we may have already passed 'peak oil'." page 73

Wondering what that claim was based on, the next few paragraphs of information can be summarised in the following points:

"At 1,000ppm, human cognitive ability drops by 21%" page 74

Then a couple of bombshells:

"CO2 already reaches 500ppm in industrial cities"

"indoors in poorly ventilated schools, homes and workplaces it can regularly exceed 1,000ppm - substantial numbers of schools in California and Texas measured in 2012 breached 2,000ppm."

The implications of this are fairly obvious.

All this is by the end of chapter 3. It's a gritty, honest look at where we're at and where going. It's not pretty but as the old saying goes, to be forewarned is to be forearmed.

Do yourself a favour, read it.