Thoughts on An Army of Davids
I‘m reading Glenn Reynolds’ An Army of Davids, and I’m not in the least bit surprised to say I find not much of it surprising; this book includes much of the tech- and markets-related thinking that Glenn’s been working on at Instapundit and in his various online columns, boils it down into an easy-to-carry package, and makes it presentable to the folks who haven’t quite twigged to the whole blog thing. This is why I mention I don’t find it surprising that I don’t find it surprising: it’s not really for me, because Glenn’s been on my daily reading list for years, and I’m already hip to his thing. But it could be relevatory for my father-in-law, who (to put it mildly) has no interest in being online but who is interested in keeping up with what’s possible in the near future. In other words, this is a book for people who aren’t already in the choir, but who are outside the chapel and wondering what it is the choir is singing.
I’m also finding it an interesting companion piece to another recent book on innovations that will make a dramatic impact on the way we live in the near future: Joel Garreau’s Radical Evolution. Garreau’s book is focused primarily on biotechnological advances, while Glenn’s focuses on what I suppose is best described as “socioeconomic tech”; both give some serious thought to what their respective tech will mean to how we live and interact with each other (there is some overlap in these two tech streams, and both books nod in the direction of each others’ tech). Combine the two books together in your head and you get some idea that the next 25 years or so could be very interesting times indeed — not in the incomprehensible “singularity” we-can’t-even-imagine-the-future sense, but simply in the sense that what is “normal” is going to change very rapidly, even by current standards.
I find the explorations in Glenn’s book a little more, shall we say, rooted and plausible than Garreau’s, but I suspect that I can more easily wrap my head around Glenn’s concepts because to a large degree I already live them (indeed, I’m quoted in Army on page 14); Garreau’s book involves tech and experiences that do not involve me, or at least do not involve me yet. I doubt Garreau’s superhuman scenario will get here in the timeframe he expects, but it’s on its way. The present Glenn details is of course here, even if, to paraphrase William Gibson, it’s not yet evenly-distributed. While I find Glenn’s book more focused on and consonant to present experience, I think both books are on the right track.
(Now, one major difference between Glenn’s book and the Garraeu book, which I’ll note but not explore now, is that Glenn’s is explicitly focused on a “bottoms-up” future in which the socioeconomic shift is toward the individual, while Garreau’s future is implicitly top-down, in that much of the biotech described in his book is funded, developed and necessarily controlled by governments and large corporations. If both tech are developing in tandem (and they are), this could lead to some very interesting repercussions, in the classic “may you live in interesting times” Chinese curse sort of way.)
Moving on to another subject now, one thing I find very interesting in An Army of Davids is the extent to which Glenn is namechecking prominent bloggers in the course of the book. One way of looking at this is that it’s Glenn playing to the blogger audience, but I don’t think that’s the right way of looking at it. As I noted earlier, if you’ve been keeping up with Glenn via Instapundit and his other online presences, his blogcentrism is unsurprising; namechecking Jeff Jarvis or Virginia Postrel or Josh Marshall won’t do much. On the other hand, for the people who aren’t familiar with the blog world (which is still most of America, remember), these are folks who are presented as authorities.
In effect, Glenn is using old media (his book) to bootstrap credibility for these folks who are largely currently notable through their new media associations. There’s a limit to this observation — Jarvis, Postrel and some other bloggers Glenn notes are also active and credible in “old” media, so it’s not an entirely pure bootstrap, as it were. But even this works to the credibility of the blog world to those unfamiliar with it; clearly it’s not all about cranks posting photos of their cats.
In all I’ve been enjoying An Army of Davids. As I noted it’s not surprising to me as a long-time reader of Glenn’s stuff, but I do find it quite interesting and fun to read, and also refreshingly optimistic, which is a tone that is sometimes diluted over at Instapundit due to whatever damn fool thing is roiling the blogosphere on any particular day. Glenn’s not some pollyanna futurist here, but he’s also clearly not threatened by the changes he sees happening now or in the near future, and he’s written what I think is a fine primer on these changes for people who are still wondering what it’s all about it. I’ll be giving this book to my father-in-law the next time I see him; I think he’s going to like it. If you’re not a regular Instapundit reader (all of whom, I suspect, have already bought the book by now), give it a whirl as well.