Technology

On our reading list: Steven Johnson’s book Future Perfect

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May

Steven Johnson’s new book, Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age, tackles subjects ranging from underground music video makers to New York’s 311 telephone service to the planning of the French railway system to Capt. “Sully” Sullenberger and the “miracle on the Hudson.” His point? That new solutions to old problems are not only possible, but are on the rise.

Initial reviews for this new tome appear very positive. Publishers Weekly writes, “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 … Stimulating and challenging, Johnson’s thought-provoking ideas steer us steadily into the future.”

Brainpickings.org calls the book “an absorbing, provocative, and unapologetically optimistic vision for the society we have the capacity to build if we use the remarkable tools of our age intelligently and wisely.” And Kirkus Reviews describes the book as a “thought-provoking, hope-inspiring manifesto.”

After the jump, watch three TEDTalks from Johnson.

Steven Johnson: Where good ideas come from
While great thinkers often say that they had a light bulb-over-the-head moment, Johnson debunks that mythology, showing that innovations happen within a network of knowledge and that there are patterns underlying idea creation.

Steven Johnson on the Web as a City
The internet is not a completely new structure. It is built by many, controlled by no one, and deeply interconnected while also functioning as independent parts — in other words, the internet has a lot in common with the structure of a city. In this talk, Johnson ruminates on both the power and fear that happen with density, both online and in our cities.

Steven Johnson tours the Ghost Map
What is the Ghost Map, you ask? It’s the charting of how sickness traveled during the cholera outbreak of London in 1854. In this talk, Johnson gives an overview of how the outbreak taught the importance of public health and influenced what our cities look like today.