Engaging But Disconnected
By Giles Slade
Prometheus Books 19.00 306 pages
The Big Disconnect argues that face-to-face interactions between people – buying a paper from a street vendor or having coffee with a friend – make us feel connected to others and build a basic sense of trust. But in the last hundred years, these interactions have been largely replaced by transactions with machines and electronic devices. While these gadgets make our lives more convenient, they also foreground our separateness, and overused, they leave us feeling isolated and lonely.
Slade marshals a fascinating array of evidence to trace these changes and their impacts. Chapter One broadly summarizes 200 years of technological innovation, while Chapter Two is entirely devoted to audio technology, and Chapter Three switches to a focus on our trust in these impersonal systems, examining the development of military rifles and voting machines. His final chapter envisions a digital future in which machines actually become our friends.
Sadly, this divergence of topics and levels of detail make the book itself feel disconnected, more like a collection of essays rather than an organic whole. Slade’s tone is conversational, but this reviewer found his language sometimes awkward. Readers already sympathetic to Slade’s conclusions will find the book engaging; others may find more satisfaction in some of the excellent sources he cites.
Reviewed By Daniel Hobbs