The Glass Cage: Automation and Us


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, best-selling 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, ...

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The Glass Cage: Automation and Us

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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, best-selling 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.

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Editorial Reviews

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For many older Americans, automaton first arrived in their lives in the form of sci-fi film robots and newspaper stories about production lines. Today, in the golden age of smartphones and Google search, there is no avoiding it. Nicholas Carr's The Glass Cage asks us to step back from the stories about self-driving cars and retail delivery drones to ponder the effects that all this remoteness has and will have on real people. With a penetrating exploration, he shows that the impact of automation on humans extends into every area of our lives; from our psychological satisfaction to our economic wellbeing. Like his Pulitzer Prize finalist The Shallows, this book asks hard questions about digital matters that we now take as givens.

The New York Times Book Review - Daniel Menaker
With every new example of the deskilling, dehumanizing and sometimes life-threatening perils of automation, Carr takes care to acknowledge its benefits. This is not a jeremiad. But it does make a case…the book picks up speed and eloquence as it goes along. You begin to find more strong, short sentences—sentences that make you stop and think (which is basically all Carr is asking us to do)…Read [The Glass Cage] if you want to understand the dangers that many forms of automative intermediation pose to what Carr (and I, and I bet you) think is the best way of living in the world.
Publishers Weekly
This sweeping analysis from journalist Carr (The Shallows) outlines the various implications of automation in our everyday lives. He asks whether automating technology is always beneficial, or if we are unwittingly rendering ourselves superfluous and ineffectual, and cites examples where both might be the case, such as fatal plane crashes attributed to an overreliance on autopilot; the deskilling of architects and doctors caused by occupational software; and the adverse mental effects of GPS. When Carr broaches the dangers of technology, his otherwise nuanced insight tends towards hyperbole: “Automaticity is the inscription the world leaves on the active mind and the active self. Know-how is the evidence of the richness of that inscription.” However, the more pertinent issue that he highlights is the way automation changes our world view through subtly altering our daily interactions with our surroundings. The book manages to be engaging, informative, and elicits much needed reflection on the philosophical and ethical implications of over-reliance on automation. Carr deftly incorporates hard research and historical developments with philosophy and prose to depict how technology is changing the way we live our lives and the world we find ourselves in. Agent: John Brockman, Brockman Inc. (Sept.)
Jonathan Safran Foer
“Nicholas Carr is among the most lucid, thoughtful, and necessary thinkers alive. He’s also terrific company. The Glass Cage should be required reading for everyone with a phone.”
Don Norman
“Artificial intelligence has that name for a reason—it isn’t natural, it isn’t human. As Nicholas Carr argues so gracefully and convincingly inthis important, insightful book, it is time for people to regain the art of thinking. It is time to invent a world where machines are subservient to the needs and wishes of humanity.”
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
“Written with restrained objectivity, The Glass Cage is nevertheless scary as any sci-fi thriller could be. It forces readers to reflect on what they already suspect, but don't want to admit, about how technology is shaping our lives. Like it or not, we are now responsible for the future of this negligible planet circling Sol; books like this one are needed until we develop an appropriate operating manual.”
Kevin Kelly
“Nick Carr is our most informed, intelligent critic of technology. Since we are going to automate everything, Carr persuades us that we should do it wisely—with mindful automation. Carr's human-centric technological future is one you might actually want to live in.”
Gary Shteyngart
“Most of us, myself included, are too busy tweeting to notice our march into technological dehumanization. Nicholas Carr applies the brakes for us (and our self-driving cars).”
Starred Review Booklist
“Carr brilliantly and scrupulously explores all the psychological and economic angles of our increasingly problematic reliance on machinery and microchips to manage almost every aspect of our lives. A must-read for software engineers and technology experts in all corners of industry as well as everyone who finds himself or herself increasingly dependent on and addicted to gadgets.”
Mark Bauerlein - Weekly Standard
“Fresh and powerful.”
Hiawatha Bray - Boston Globe
“A sobering new analysis of the hazards of intelligent technology.”
James Janega - Chicago Tribune
“The Glass Cage is a worthy antidote to the relentlessly hopeful futurism of Google, TED Talks and Walt Disney… The same way no popular conversation on cloning can be had without bringing to mind Michael Crichton's techno-jeremiad Jurassic Park, Carr's book is positioned to stake out similar ground: To suggest moral restraint on future development with a well-timed and well-placed ‘what-if?'”
Michelle Scheraga - Associated Press
“A stimulating, absorbing read.”
Elisabeth Donnelly - Flavorwire
“An elegantly written history of what role robotics have played in our past, and the possible role that they may play in our future… The Glass Cage urges us to take a moment, to take stock, and to realize the price that we’re paying—if not right this second, then certainly at some point in the future—in order to live a life that’s made easier by technology.”
Evan Seliger - Forbes Magazine
“Helps us appreciate why so-called gains of ‘superior results’ can come with a steep price of hard-to-see tradeoffs that are no less potent for being subtle and nuanced.”
G. Pascal Zachary - San Francisco Chronicle
“[A] deeply informed reflection on computer automation.”
Jacob Axelrad - Christian Science Monitor
“Smart, insightful… paint[s] a portrait of a world readily handing itself over to intelligent devices.”
Phil Simon - Huffington Post
“Forces the reader to think about where we're going, how fast, and what it all means.”
Clay Shirky
“Nick Carr is the rare thinker who understands that technological progress is both essential and worrying. The Glass Cage is a call for technology that complements our human capabilities, rather than replacing them.”
Library Journal
Having explored technology's impact on our thought processes in the Pulitzer finalist The Shallows, Carr extends the argument.
Kirkus Reviews
Serious technophobic exploration of the dangers of machines superseding the role of humans in the workforce.Technology journalist and Pulitzer Prize finalist Carr (The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, 2010, etc.), the former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review, is on a selfless mission to warn humanity about the dangers of robots and computers making human beings obsolete in the world of work. Although the book is certainly more than a Luddite tirade about the increasing subservience of humans to the machines they manufacture, the author’s arguments can sometimesventure into paranoiac territory, seemingly more for shock value than anything else. But his core argument—that man’s own mental faculties, natural instincts and vital creativity are being dulled by dependence on machines—is well-argued, and he cites more than a few compelling instances in which this technological dependency has proved fatal—e.g., pilots overly accustomed to flying on computerized autopilot who, when forced to act manually, freeze up and make costly mistakes in otherwise routine situations. Carr also takes a critical look at the potential problems and contradictions inherent in new technology, such as Google Glass, designed to allow tech geeks to stay connected with cyberspace without becoming alienated from their surroundings while constantly checking text messages and such. The author proposes that human beings must take a more dominant and less dependent role in how computer technology is being implemented in society and not be mindlessly carried along by a blind faith in technological advancement—a task probably much easier said than done.An important if occasionally overbearing study of how machines are making us less human and what we can do about it.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393240764
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/29/2014
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 62,638
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Nicholas Carr is the author of The Shallows, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, as well as The Big Switch and Does IT Matter? His articles and essays have appeared in The Atlantic, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Wired, and the New Republic, and he writes the widely read blog Rough Type. He has been writer-in-residence at the University of California, Berkeley, and an executive editor of the Harvard Business Review.

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