How our long affair with ever-new technologies has undermined interpersonal relationships
Tablets, smart phones, and social networks all promise better opportunities to connect and stay connected. Yet what they really do is replace face-to-face interactions and disguise our growing inability to trust others. According to recent surveys, at any given moment, sixty million Americansâ€”or 20 percent of the population7mdash;feel sufficiently isolated to report that loneliness is a major source of unhappiness. Have we arrived at a new kind of consciousness in which electronic interfaces receive most of our attention to the detriment of real interpersonal communication and empathy?
In The Big Disconnect, award-winning writer Giles Slade offers a bracing look at an America where intimacy with machines is increasingly replacing mutual human intimacy. In a sweeping overview that ranges from the late nineteenth century to the present, Slade reveals how consumer technologies changed from analgesic devices that ameliorated the loneliness of a newly urban generation in the Gilded Age to prosthetic machines that act as substitutes for companionship in contemporary America. Mining insights from neuroscience, the author delves deeply into the history of this transformation, showing why Americans use certain technologies to mediate their connections with other human beings instead of seeking out face-to-face contacts. In a final investigative section, Slade describes ways in which some people are bucking the trend by consciously including interpersonal strategies that build empathy, community, and mutual acceptance.
This masterful interdisciplinary synthesis provides many insights into our increasingly artificial relationships and a vision of how we can rediscover genuine community and human empathy.
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Giles Slade is the author of Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America, which won the IPPY gold medal for best environmental book of 2007. He writes regularly for the Huffington Post and is featured in The Light Bulb Conspiracy, a MediaPro documentary about planned obsolescence that premiered on European television in seven languages in 2011.Review:
"Giles Slade is dead-on with regard to the dangerous way we are embracing our machines. What we have lost is the sense of identity as part of a bigger world: nature. . . . In The Big Disconnect, we relearn that our ability to connect with nonhuman nature is an essential part of being human."
-DAVID SUZUKI, professor emeritus, University of British Columbia, and author of The Sacred Balance
"A perceptive, challenging meditation on the isolating consequences of modern technology. Do you think all those clever gadgets, apps, and websites are making your life better? If so, Giles Slade would like a word with you. Slade is a very smart man; you may not always agree with him, but you need to listen to what he has to say."
-MARK KATZ, author of Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music
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