cover image Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age

Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age

Steven Johnson. Riverhead, $26.95 (208p) ISBN 978-1-59448-820-7

From the drop in the crime rate to the increase in airline safety, the media tends often to focus its attention on large areas of social progress rather than on incremental progress in various areas of social and political change. As journalist Johnson points out in this fascinating and compelling book, as the character of our society changes and embraces social networking to a greater degree, the ways that we foster and measure progress are beginning to change dramatically. For example, the progress in reducing teen smoking didn’t arise out of larger economic, market, or political forces; the decline in teen smoking came from doctors, regulators, parents, and peers sharing vital information about the health risks of smoking. In the future, progress will not arise primarily out of government directives or policies but out of peer networks. A peer network builds tools that lets a network of neighbors identify problems or unmet needs in a community, while other networks propose and fund solutions to those problems. The decision-making process governing the spending of funds would be less hierarchical, and the task of identifying and solving community problems would be pushed out to the edges of the network, away from the central planners. Johnson points to Wikipedia as a prime example of a successful peer-to-peer network, for it has built itself progressively into a network of information that the community carefully monitors and administers. Stimulating and challenging, Johnson’s thought-provoking ideas steer us steadily into the future. (Sept.)