August 26, 2014

Review: Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory Of The Web

Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory Of The Web
Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory Of The Web by David Weinberger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Only on the web does a book 12 years old feel like ancient history. In many respects, Weinberger was prescient, identifying trends that have become more and more powerful (e.g., one passage could be seen as predicting the rise of Wikipedia, and another the advent of the currently omnipresent "Like" button). Even more often, he provides insights that are still deep and thought-provoking.

Weinberger is a philosopher by training, and this book is strongest when Weinberger focuses on philosophy. For example, he argues that the web is a push back against the turn toward realism in society. He argues that the web is a completely constructed space, without the constraints of the real world, and the fact that we can find such meaning and purpose through that sort of "unreal" environment says something about what our real needs and desires are.

At times, the book is overly technological deterministic, and at times Weinberger makes claims about the nature of the web that may have been true 12 years ago, but feel less true today (e.g., today's web is much more organized around real-world friends and less around interests). However, I find his argument that using the Internet subtly changes the way we see the world to be both persuasive and important. Just because the Internet isn't "changing everything" rapidly before our eyes doesn't mean that there it isn't influencing culture in really important ways.

Overall, an important and interesting book. Should be required reading for anyone interested in the cultural impact of the internet.

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