"The Glass Cage: Automation and Us" (W.W. Norton & Co.), by Nicholas Carr
I haven't needed to memorize a phone number since I bought my first cellphone 15 years ago. Now I couldn't recall a single number, not even my mother's (sorry, mom). After reading Nicholas Carr's "The Glass Cage: Automation and Us," I not only long for the time I relied on that part of my brain, I'll be looking for ways to put it back to use.
Carr's title refers to the glass cockpit found in modern airplanes, instruments of advanced technology that ostensibly render human pilots redundant. Autopilots are supposed to make planes safer by eliminating the risk of human error; Carr notes, however, that this leads to situations in which human pilots are not adequately trained for what to do if and when the computers flying the planes fail.
He looks at this degradation of human skill due to our growing overreliance on computers in planes, cars, health care and design. Without resorting to scare tactics or sermonizing on the dangers of overautomation, his book details in careful, measured ways both the promise of mechanization and its drawbacks since the earliest days of the Industrial Revolution, drawing connections between the blue-collar worker operating factory equipment and the white-collar worker inputting data in a computer, both using machines meant to shoulder most of the heavy physical or mental labor.
His historical, inclusive approach makes an issue most of those already deeply steeped in technology won't find at all surprising — that what we're losing might outweigh what we gain by relying on computers — a stimulating, absorbing read.