The text has been fine-tooth-combed, a working cover is making the rounds (see above), and barrels of black ink are being mixed. My next book, The Glass Cage: Automation and Us, will be published in the U.S. on September 29, and international editions will begin appearing shortly thereafter. I can now exhale.
“Software is eating the world,” Mark Andreessen observed a couple of years ago. The Glass Cage is my attempt to describe what a software-eaten world looks like, and what it feels like to live in such a world. There’s been a lot of speculation and debate recently about the effects of automation on jobs and wealth. I use that discussion — which is really the latest round in a two-century-long discussion of the economic effects of technology — as the jumping off point for an examination of automation’s human consequences. I look at how advances in computing, analytical and decision-support software, and robotics are reshaping the way work is done in all sectors of the economy, from factories, to professional offices, to the creative trades, and how the changes influence people’s jobs, roles, talents, and even their sense of self. In addition to the professional effects of automation, I also look at its more intimate, personal consequences. I examine how our growing reliance on computer gadgets, apps, and related media is transforming our daily routines and giving our lives a new and very different rhythm and texture.
I try to show how these immediate trends, which are playing out very quickly and often without our full awareness, are part of bigger historical narratives: the story of humankind’s often fraught relationship with machines of production, the story of the value society places on work and labor, the story of the development and loss of human skill, and the story of our shifting psychological and physical relationship with the world in which we live. More practically, I tie automation’s effects, both intended and unintended, to design decisions made by engineers, programmers, and marketers, decisions that for decades have placed technological and business interests ahead of human ones.
I end the book with an attempt to describe and promote a more humane philosophy of technology, a way of reconnecting ourselves with the true joy of tools. I don’t want to give too much away, but I draw here on the work of Robert Frost, John Dewey, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty.
I’ll post more thoughts about the book and its concerns in the coming months. In the meantime, here is the blurb on The Glass Cage from its U.S. publisher, W.W. Norton:
What kind of world are we building for ourselves? That’s the question Nicholas Carr tackles in his important and absorbing followup to The Shallows. Digging behind the headlines about factory robots and self-driving cars, smartphone apps and computerized medicine, Carr explores the hidden costs of allowing software to take charge of our jobs and our lives. Weaving together insights from science, history, and philosophy, he makes a compelling case that the dominant Silicon Valley ethic is sapping our skills and constricting our horizons.
The Glass Cage is not just a timely critique of society’s growing dependence on computers. It’s a riveting story of humankind’s entanglement with machines. From 19th century textile mills to the cockpits of modern jets, from the frozen hunting grounds of Inuit tribes to the “augmented reality” of Google Glass, Carr takes us on an unforgettable voyage of discovery culminating in a moving meditation on how we can use technology to expand life’s possibilities rather than narrow them.
And here are links for advance orders: