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.

12 Comments on “Thoughts on An Army of Davids”

  1. I’m assuming that the “evenly-distributed” reference is to the quote “The future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed.” I’ve always thought that was William Gibson (and WikiQuote agress, FWIW).

    Sorry for the nit-pick.

  2. I have some concern that many bloggers are giving this “unsurprising” book at least lukewarm reviews in return for continued plugs and Instalanches from Glenn. One thing that bloggers are unnecessarily self-congratulatory about is their exemption from normal ethical constraints — an old-media paper that did its homework wouldn’t permit softball reviews from reviewers who were beholden to a book’s author for goodies like plugs on the author’s blog. I have more comments here.

  3. John Bruce:

    “I have some concern that many bloggers are giving this ‘unsurprising’ book at least lukewarm reviews in return for continued plugs and Instalanches from Glenn.”

    Well, I can’t speak to what other bloggers are doing. As for myself, inasmuch as I note that I am actually in the book I don’t think anyone with half a brain will assume for a moment that this is disinterested commentary. I’m not sure why you do.

    Your problem, clearly, is that you expect a blog to be run like an old-media newspaper. Well, this one isn’t. This is a personal site where I write whatever I damn well please, and if I want to promote a book, however I want to promote a book, I will do so. If I were writing reviews in a newspaper, I would not review a book of a friend, because clearly I’m involved with that person. However, the same rules don’t apply here, because why should they?

  4. Bruce – except that major newspapers do that sort of thing all the time – they’re just a lot less honest about it than John or the Blogfaddah. Blogs are all about opinionated commentary and disclosure – you can pretty much say anything on a blog and it’s just you ranting to those interested enough to read it. If you act like an ass, you’ll blow your credibility and lose your readers. Since neither Glenn nor John charge anything for reading their blogs, they can feel free to write complete crap (not that they do), for which you have paid the going rate (ie nothing). If a bloger wants to leave opinion behind and assert a fact, he does so explicitly and generally tries to back himself up with evidence in the form of links (which, ironically, are usually to an MSM sourcce). If you think the blogger has his facts wrong, you can use the comments section or his own blog to dispute those “facts”, unlike the MSM where a whole 3 people a day might get their (heavily edited) letter to the editor printed. There may be many incorrect individual blog postings, but the blogoshere as a whole tends to be very good seperating the wheat from the chaff.

    To sum up – the blogoshere has a lot of controls and checks, they just aren’t the same ones that the MSM uses / purports to use. It’s your choice – you can be a peasant, eating the scraps from the plate of a Goliath, or you can be a David.

  5. John Bruce,

    Interesting point, but so what? I’m not all that convinced of the “integrity” of the old MSM.

    They seem to suffer from their own issues of promotion, but don’t have the advantage of being the “new medium.”

    For example, you were allowed to post here instantly, and voice your concerns. That is a far cry from the ossified “letter to the editor” and even farther from ‘correcting’ a TV news piece.

    The ease with which one can engage in “misinformation” and “self-dealing” on their blog is countered by the ease with which one can comment on it (or post a counter argument on their own blog)

    For the purposes of full disclosure, I posted this comment to get a little exposure from the sloshing around of the “Instalanche” wave.

  6. an old-media paper that did its homework wouldn’t permit softball reviews from reviewers who were beholden to a book’s author for goodies like plugs on the author’s blog.

    Are you certain that you can prove this nobility of purpose and conduct in brick-and-mortar papers beyond anecdotal assumptions?

    For one, I remember that my hockey team got an article in the front of the local section of the Dayton Daily News because my dad knew a guy who knew a guy that worked for the paper. This was ten years ago but I doubt too much has changed, and as others have pointed out, wouldn’t it be better to be biased and honest, thus allowing consumers to adjust their filter appropriately, rather than to be biased and yet claim to be completely objective?

  7. Hmmm. I’m a crank, and I’ve been known to post photos of my cats. But my crankitudeliness is in spite of my cats, not because of them. Just wanted to make that clear.

  8. Face it, there are a small number of you wannabes in a big ass-kissing contest. You all promote one another (Reynolds finds a bit of time in those brief flickers when he is not belaboring his own achievements)incessantly, in an effort to be as the old media with that we know what’s best, circle the wagons mentality.

    If you guys are the “future of media” then let the end come soon, nuclear mushrooms growing like fungus in your butt crack.

  9. Bruce Arthurs:

    “But my crankitudeliness is in spite of my cats, not because of them. Just wanted to make that clear.”

    Duly noted!


    “Face it, there are a small number of you wannabes in a big ass-kissing contest.”

    Thanks for sharing, Felix.

  10. I have read Glenn’s blog for several years and did enjoy the book. He did aim the book at the uninformed (tech) masses probably in an effort to reach a larger market – after all, he already owns the geeks and gearheads.

    The book contained five “laugh out loud” moments for me. Glenn can trick you into challenging your own perspective. I can never tell if its the Lawyer or Professor in him that does that – but he does make you think.

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