Friday, August 11, 2017

Bored and Brilliant by Manoush Zomorodi

From the publisher: In 2015 Manoush Zomorodi, host of the popular podcast and radio show Note to Self, led tens of thousands of listeners through an experiment to help them unplug from their devices, get bored, jump-start their creativity, and change their lives. Bored and Brilliant builds on that experiment to show us how to rethink our gadget use to live better and smarter in this new digital ecosystem. The outcome is mind-blowing. Unplug and read on.

I am very interested in the topic of phone use and overuse. I am not anti-technology (and neither is the author of this book), but I do find the overuse of phones by much of American society alarming. Zomorodi was definitely preaching to the choir with me as a reader.

Zomorodi includes research to back up the idea that we are more creative when we allow ourselves to be “bored” and allow our minds to wander. I do not carry my smartphone around in my hand and it is seldom in view when I am out with others, so I am actually not her primary audience. Still, even I found some of her seven challenges (to change your relationship with your phone and increase your productivity and creativity) of interest. Most of them are not a challenge for me (keep your device out of reach while in motion – already do that; have a photo free day – most of my days are photo free, etc.). But I certainly waste time on the internet on my laptop, if not my smartphone.

I found myself wanting to quote long passages of the book because they match my own experiences so well. For example,
“In a study from 2014 called the iPhone Effect: The Quality of In-Person Social Interaction in the Presence of Mobile Devices, researchers at Virginia Tech found that the mere presence of a mobile device, even just lying there, seemingly benign on the kitchen counter, can lower the empathy exchanged between two friends.” (p. 56)
“This isn’t just a productivity or focus issue. [Gloria] Mark’s lab has found that the more people switch their attention, the higher their stress level. That is especially concerning, she says, because the modern workplace feeds on interruptions.” (p. 89)
The text was engaging and the research cited compelling. If you would like to decrease the amount of time you waste on your smartphone (or laptop), you might find this short and easy to read book of interest.

I read an advance reader copy of Bored But Brilliant. It will be published in early September, and a print copy will be available for checkout at the Galesburg Public Library.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Clockwork Dynasty by Daniel H. Wilson

From the publisher: An ingenious new thriller that weaves a path through history, following a race of human-like machines that have been hiding among us for untold centuries.

The main characters in The Clockwork Dynasty are June, a young human woman who researches mechanical antiquities, and Peter, an automaton or avtomat (a Russian word that means both “automatic” and “machine”). Peter has a “sister,” another avtomat, who looks like a doll but is determined, intelligent and logical.

The world building in The Clockwork Dynasty is amazing. It opens with June exploring a mechanical doll, which pulled me in right away as a doll collector. The story covers the lives of the two avtomats and others like them across continents and millennia. June gets dragged into an avtomat civil war against her will, but she has the knowledge and skills to alter the course of something that has gone on for thousands of years. I would describe the book as a sort of steampunk mystery. Why are the avtomats fighting? It was refreshing to read a book that didn’t dwell on a romantic trilogy – or any romance for that matter.

Wilson does a great job of painting images throughout the book. There are many little believable details about the construction of the automatons. Wilson draws them in such a way that they felt both real and inhuman to me. I felt I came to know Peter and his sister Elena better than the human June. The narrative jumps between Peter’s past and June’s present, but not in a way that seemed at all confusing.

The Clockwork Dynasty is not a perfect book – parts of it were a bit slow, and a lot of questions remained after I finished it. But I very much enjoyed this unusual read. The Clockwork Dynasty is available at the Galesburg Public Library as a print book and an audiobook, and it will be available as an ebook shortly.